Performing Public Narrative: Oral history, play-making and dialog

freddy wavesA bit of history and explanation:

Over the past few years I have done a number of oral history interviews with folks who work for Cornell Cooperative Extension. At the same time I’ve also been involved in work around digital storytelling and social media. Within the past year I’ve been using the public narrative framework as a tool to frame these efforts and create something cohesive out of these work. And during the past few months I was involved with the production of a play that made use of some of the oral histories I have gathered.

I mention all of this in order to give a bit of context to what follows. Some toplay1pics I am reasonably acquainted with, some I am relatively new to and am working to understand more deeply. So, anything I happen to say that is not new, novel or unique likely rises from my current status as active learner among these topic.

Performing Public Narrative: Oral history, play-making and dialog

As part of a larger project I recently worked with some theater folk (Civic Ensemble) in the creation and performance of a new play about the work of extension called Circle Forward. Circle Forward was written by Godfrey Simmons, artistic director of Civic Ensemble, and made use of dialog extracted from a number of oral history interviews I have conducted,. The play also integrated pieces of dialog from some deliberative forums we had conducted as part of the Extension Reconsidered project here, as well as text taken from historical documents.

As this process of creation and performance unfolded I began to think of it as a public narrative – weaving together different components representing stories of self, us and now and staging them in a very deliberate and structured way in order to point towards a future (or futures) for our work.


Performing public narrative

Given that there was only one performance of Circle Forward, I feel as though this is a fairly apt encapsulation of the process. Given time and funding, however, it is easy to imagine this process being fleshed out more deeply (as I am sure it has been in other contexts and topics – just not sure if it has been viewed/understood as public narrative?). With multiple performances that integrated dialog or deliberation after the performance you can develop a spiral, an evolution of the stories of us and now that begins to clearly articulate the critically hopeful story of the future.

Circle Forward – the performance

Some of the stories included in Circle Forward can be found in interviews on our Extension Reconsidered blog .

I am hoping that we can continue to pursue this process and path. There is tremendous potential here to create public narratives that bridge difference, and seek common pathways forward. We need to learn to talk to each other again and there is something deeply magical about theater, performance.

And as a small side note-  though I haven’t yet talked to them some of the interviewees were in attendance at the performance and I wonder how it felt to see and here their words re-staged and performed. I know personally, looking out and seeing them in the audience, knowing that I had sat with them in the interview, had helped facilitate the words to a degree, the experience was …interesting and powerful.

What I’m reading now related to the above: