A Look into Performance Workshops at the Library
**All participants have been given pseudonyms in the following workshop description.
March 1, 2019
We had a relatively large group including some returners as well as some new faces. As usual, we began the session with our check-in “Bam, Pow!” Martin took the lead in explaining how the check-in worked to the new participants: “Bam” is your highlight from the past week, and “Pow” is your low point. After each person shares their “Bam” and “Pow,” the group does a gesture together, ending with a single clap.
Since Katie returned both her permission slip and availability form at the beginning of the session, she got to lead the counting game. After a few minutes of achieving low numbers and being distracted by crinkling chip bags, Moriah suggested that we put the snacks aside to concentrate in the quiet. Soon the group surpassed the previous record, and counted to a total of 15. Participants reflected that the same 3-4 voices seemed to be doing most of the counting this week. I was sitting next to Ava in the circle, who was saying about every other number, technically following the rules by not speaking twice in a row. She seemed particularly eager to speak up and participate, which she hadn’t necessarily been in previous sessions. Another participant suggested that we might make the game more challenging if we allowed more people to speak up, and the consensus seemed to be that they would attempt to make more space for others in the future.
For the main activity, I lead the group through the exercise that Lindsay Vader showed us in class, “Walk My Life.” Drawing upon many of the participants’ interest in art, Jason, Peyton, and I handed out paper and markers. I asked the participants to imagine they were going to make a map of their lives. If they could pick five moments or times that were particularly important to them, how would those things connect on a map. I showed the group a map that I had created ahead of time with a variety of lines and arrows between my images: New Hampshire, Ohio, a soccer ball, drama masks, and the transgender symbol. After a few minutes, the group seemed to be wrapping up, so I invited them to stand up and imagine that their map was drawn across the entire floor of the room and to follow their map from start to finish. To give an example of how they might share the stories behind their maps, I demonstrated the map that I had drawn in “Walk My Life.” The group followed behind me, mimicking my motions, the ways that I was walking, and the path that I took all over the room. After going through the example, several participants volunteered to lead us through their maps, which I explore more below. Finally, I tied the activity to Peyton’s idea to create an opportunity for the visual artists of the group to draw on butcher paper, I invited the participants to draw two of the symbols from their personal map on the “Map of Our Lives.”
Walk My Life Stories and Performative Elements to Take Away
I can only remember bits and pieces of the various stories that were shared, but I was particularly struck in this exercise by how the group explored different ways of walking in leading us through their stories. I remember the constant treks back and forth in Ava’s many experiences moving between Ohio and South Carolina and the dead stop when she spoke of losing her best friend. Katie’s circular path mirrored the cycle of finding friendship, bullying, isolating, cutting, and healing that she talked about in her story. Martin’s infamous bathroom fire story re-emerged, along the same path of the death of his grandmother. Moriah noted his strong step toward the next stop on the map after the heaviness of his loss—a kind of moving on, a story of survival. Charlie shared that she had written a book called Girl exploring her life and discovering her queer sexuality. J marked out her path by the years in which each of the events she shared happened, linking the various temporalities with the different stories and spaces in the room. Dalibar shared not his own story, but that of a type of creature called the Dalibars. He had us scuttling across the room as he told an allegory (?) about the environment and the creatures’ first contact with humans. It was imbued with so much detail and metaphor; he really built this imaginative world and told the story with a lot of conviction. Perhaps the creative risk of telling the crab-like creature Dalibar story felt lower to him than the personal risk of sharing his own life story with a group of people that was largely new to him.
I think that one route we might be able to take with this group could be to incorporate multiple stories into a single “map.” We could play with different walks, space, and shape. Recurring themes that have been coming up over the past couple of weeks have been friendship, LGBT identity and community, loss, and moving on. I’m wondering if an exercise like the one we did with APTP with the movement solos and duets might give us a next step for taking these stories forward towards the sharing. Then again, if we don’t have the same people or even more new people next time, that could create a challenge for continuity.