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“Un-Stories” Preview: Structuring Moments Around the Language of “Crisis”

What happens when the textual archive of the social sciences collides with the dynamic space of the theater? What kinds of questions can research-oriented and performance disciplines explore in tandem that they could not access independently? What new methodologies at the intersection of the social sciences and performance develop?
During the upcoming “Un-stories” performance event on Sunday, May 7th at 7:30 p.m. at Della Davidson Performance Studio, students and professors from anthropology and performance studies will explore the possibilities of interdisciplinary dialogue as a way to approach the language, logic and experience of “crisis.”
This free performance is the culmination of a year’s worth of workshops by the DHI Research Cluster called “Research, Narrative, and Performance: Explorations in Between the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities” and spearheaded by Cristiana Giordano, an associate professor of anthropology at UC Davis.
The project grew out of Giordano’s continuing interest in bridging the social sciences, arts and humanities as well as a graduate seminar that she co-taught with Greg Pierotti in the Fall of 2015. Co-author of The Laramie Project, Laramie: 10 Years Later, and The Peoples Temple, Pierotti is a teacher, writer, performer and director, who has used Moment Work™ to devise his own original work and work with Tectonic Theater Project.
Moment Work™ was also important in building this cluster’s performance and collaboration. It is a practice for working with non-theatrical source material (interviews, archival documents, medical and legal reports, various media sources, etc.) to construct theater pieces based on current events. This theatrical devising technique focuses on structuring moments that connect the stage to the source material and then using participants’ (both performers and viewers) accumulated observations about and responses to this work as a point of entry for analysis.
This innovative practice and sharing of material between disciplines highlights the “potentialities of interdisciplinary collaboration” by providing “a fresh way” of approaching both the work of anthropology and performance. Unlike “typical” techniques for analyzing ethnographic materials and building narratives, surprise, for both viewer and performer, is an important aspect of this technique’s exploration of the frameworks and diction used to define world events and human relationships.
This performance event is timely in its focus on movement, borders and the current immigration “crisis” in Italy and the Mediterranean. By reflecting “on experiences of movement that are represented through the language of crisis, on others that are excluded by this same language, and on others still that disrupt this crisis logic by exceeding its categories,” this event confronts the tension between lived experience and the translation of that experience into a language the state can understand.
As in individual consciousness, affective experience coexists and may conflict with processes of being acknowledged by the nation state and media—as undocumented, immigrant, refugee or another “recognized” status.
This ground-breaking approach to embodying personal experience and the language of “crisis,” allows both collaborators and viewers “to think about a topic in more complex ways.” Composed of non-narrative representations of experiences, Pierotti and Giordano emphasize that the project is not about answers; it is about using questions to think about complex issues that involve diverse stakeholders. It seeks to open up conversations rather than ending them. In fact, one of the project’s aims is “destabilizing certainty” by juxtaposing experiences and ideas that disrupt point of view and invite reflection on fixed beliefs and categories.
A discussion with the audience will follow the sharing of theatrical moments included in this work-in-progress performance. With its emphasis on collaboration and dialogue, the facilitators hope for diverse audience perspectives composed of voices from within the university, especially those of undocumented students, and from the larger Davis community. 
This event was made possible by the support of DHI and the Mellon Initiative in Comparative Border Studies.
–Jennifer Tinonga-Valle, DHI Graduate Student Researcher and doctoral candidate in the Department of English

This page was last updated: May 1, 2017



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