Devised Theater: A Venn Diagram

Devised Theater: A Venn Diagram
This diagram was created by the co-producing artistic directors of Rude Mechs to depict the complexity of creating and crediting collaboratively devised work for theatrical performance.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Blog Assignment #1

Assignment: Come up with one good question based on the reading for class on Wednesday, January 20. Focus especially on pages 310-336. Post this well-formulated question in a comment attached to this post. The question must be at least one paragraph and should provide a contextualizing framework. (e.g. what in the reading prompted your question? Is this a question you’ve struggled with before? Or are you responding to a point of confusion in the narrative? What in your previous experience prompted this comment?) The deadline for posting this question is noon on Wednesday, January 19.
Reading Assignment: "Field Working: Reading and Writing Research" by Bonnie Stone Sunstein and Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater.


  1. I was intrigued by the idea that someone who invites another to tell a story is not only a storyteller in their own right (with some claim to the story they have announced) but also the person who is in control of the entire group, the flow of conversation, and the discourse that immediately follows the story. The authors assert, on page 327, that a person who announces the story not only frames it within this announcement (therefore establishing the purpose and meaning of the story even before it is told) but they are also displaying an awareness of social rank.

    Is the invitation to tell a story, then, an exertion of dominance by the person who is announcing the story of another?

    Children ask for a story to be told by their parents, to a friend. They do this because they enjoy the familiarity of known stories and honestly want their friends to share the joy they know from the story. Are the authors suggesting that this kind of pure desire to share narrative pleasures is not part of the adult world?

  2. My question turned into a series of questions… luckily, they are related--though maybe not clearly conveyed.

    As an individual new to the art of collecting oral histories (especially via lore, myth, legend, curse, etc.), what is the best way to go about asking questions about specific words, phrases, metaphors, etc. that are unfamiliar to us? It seems inappropriate to interrupt the storyteller as s/he is discussing his/her piece (and this is where taking notes is an essential part of gathering this history), but can waiting until the end of an interview allow the meaning of a particular word or phrase to be lost via a shift in context? Are these meanings sometimes an “in the moment” phenomena, irrelevant once their time has past, or do these histories often share an enduring meaning that can be adequately explained outside of the context of their original discussion? As discussed in the article (roughly pages 323-25), cultural variations on myth/lore do little to alter the inherent themes/meanings—so I suppose I am concerned about how the impromptu nature of “verbal performance” aligns with the individual’s implied meaning, and how analyzing that meaning outside of its original context effects my ability to understand the information.

  3. In the reading, two main purposes for storytelling are presented. The first is to establish a moral code, usually through the use of reference to the Bible and specific Scripture verse, and second is purely for entertainment.While both of the communities tell stories with each of these qualities, they put emphasis on different ones; entertainment for Trackton and moral lessons for Roadville.
    Which do you think holds more weight in regards to the value of stories to a society?
    Are there any examples of the effects on a society as a whole if one of these elements is left out of the story?

  4. The reading on Researching Verbal Performance focusing upon Urban Legends mentioned two different aspects of modern folklore: one, that legends are retold within the belief system of a culture, and two, that in modern America, because so many folk tales are in print or electronic form, they are fixed stories rather than a changing oral history.
    Although it also mentioned that urban legends and oral histories are still passed down in altering terms through family and friends, I wonder what kind of effect this has on a culture's moral codes. Do the morals represented in fairy and folk tales remain unchanged, reiterating, for example, "capitalism, honesty, hard work, progress", or do different morals become interpreted from the same story as the values of a society change?
    Overall, in modernity, because of our attachment to media, are we creating less and less oral histories and personal folklore for the next generations?

  5. The authors of our reading investigate many kinds of verbal expressions in the art of performance and explain what it is about them that makes each one an important category of speech. In the reading, we hear about a kind of verbal expression called lore, a ritualistically told verbal expression, as in a joke, curse, or proverb. The authors further explain that it is, as our class, an action of community engagement to tell these stories, as they are often told in group settings. A subset of this lore, called the urban legend, is described as a cautionary tale placed in real life and made to seem true. An example of one is given called "The Roommate's Death" by Brunvand. The question, however, posed is this: In the reading the authors list three kinds of urban legend: The Rommate's Death, The Baby-sitter and the Man Upstairs, and The Killer in the Backseat. Urban legends are popularly exhibited in popular culture and as such can be seen anywhere. Can you find one of these three variants of the urban legend in some other work? It can be a film, a novel, or even a song. However, it must follow the cautionary tale structure and exhibit an obvious basic theme as the one's listed.

  6. Chapter 6 of the reading for today deals with the difference in storytelling styles between two communities. The Roadville residents tell stories in order to affirm social hierarchies and norms, whereas in Trackton stories serve to entertain and work towards conflict resolution (pp. 325-336).

    I am curious about other reasons for storytelling. On finishing the reading for today, I realized that I recently hosted an evening of storytelling that produced unexpected but highly pleasurable results. The evening at my house was styled after Yalda, the traditional way to mark the Winter Solstice in Iran: people gather for a feast and a night of storytelling, a way to pass the longest night of the year. The stories told at my house originated from a number of distinct communities: post-communist Czech Republic, Northern Minnesota, suburban Long Island, post-Communist Bulgaria, etc. There were, therefore, neither common social norms enforced, nor were these stories intended to resolve conflict.

    What I realized only after my guests had departed was that our stories had helped us know each other better. By listening to my friends’ stories, I got to know them in ways I hadn’t had access to before. This, then, seems to be another point of storytelling: to let others know where we come from, to learn about the roads they’ve traveled.

  7. Within the first few lines of the reading I developed a question, or rather, half-question, half-theory. Here it is. It is something that I have been questioning for some time now, and would love to bounce the idea off of some other people so as to gain insight into others thoughts on the matter.

    It seems to me that we all came from the same place. Earth: the little blue planet capable of sustaining all sorts of life. In the cultural anthropology course I took last semester, the definition of culture was different from those mentioned in the reading. The definition offered was roughly this: culture everything we say and do.

    I cannot help but wonder if culture and human being are synonymous; and culture is simply human nature.

    Perhaps someone could help me understand whether that statement has truth, makes no sense, or has already been touched on by another.

  8. On page 328 in regards to the Roadville families, it became very clear that the women had a definite "pecking order," something I usually contribute to males in the humanities. This was done by the establishment and following of certain unspoken "rules" which were then carried out in the form of communication, specifically storytelling. Who is allowed to speak when, what they are allowed to speak about, how a "good story" changes depending on who you are, social class, how long you have been there, ect. It is all relative. This issuing of dominance is so much more underlying than how males typically establish these boundaries. Specifically, I wanted to pose the question of whether a woman's status actually governs her communication skills because of the pressures of society to maintain order, often done in the female realm through woman to woman interactions?

  9. One of the passages that really struck me occurred on Page 324 at the bottom of the first full paragraph: "...Because our mainstream American culture is so based on both print and electronic media, much of what we know to be our fairy tales come to us not as oral, shifting stories from a storyteller but in published form. We may have to look to our families and our ethnic or regional backgrounds to find more traditional oral forms of fairy tales."

    How has print media impacted our ability to sustain a living tradition of storytelling? What implications does this have for our culture? Is this a problem? If it is, what is a solution that is reasonably possible?

    I especially want to emphasize the last two questions. Much of the reading I have done lately and many of the courses I am taking or have taken have made it apparent that there are extreme problems within our culture and society. This awareness has left me frustrated in many ways because what good is a critique that allows for no solution. I realize that a lot of what I have just written stems from my own frustrations with other readings and less from some lack of solution found within this particular reading.

  10. from Layson:

    In the urban legends, I feel like the women are always the victims, as if they need a male figure around for protection. But at the same time you don't see the women being the bad guy. I think that sends a mixed message to the listeners of the stories. They are lead to believe that they need to learn how to be/act through such stories as well as thinking that a male figure is a must in order to live a "safe" life even though a male is normally also portrayed as the one creating trouble. Why can't it be the other way? and why are men never portrayed as the victim in these stories? and with that, why is it that the women are always portrayed as the weaker, inferior gender? How is this supposed to be empowering or encouraging for women?

  11. I'm curious how accurately the act of story-telling reflects the way we create group dynamics in general. It seems that when the two story-telling groups are compared around page 334, certain dynamics become apparent that exist in settings outside of story-telling.

    For example, classroom dynamics seem to frequently fall into the same format as the Roadville story-telling, where someone other than the one performing prompts a response(the teacher/professor), and usually those few who are recognized as "good performers" are the ones to respond while those who do don't feel confident as a good performer do not.

  12. As I finished reading the work of Schein, I found myself completely overwhelmed and feeling in lost in the midst of a world that I did not really know. What I mean is how oblivious I am as is our culture as a whole to the messages that have infiltrated society and are being accepted, neglected, or, more rarely, challenged with the simple stroll across the street or the purchase of a soft drink. Each action contributes to the overall direction that our cultural landscape has come from and will move toward. To simplify my thoughts, I held upon to his thesis statement on page 203:
    “The cultural landscapes of the United States reflect and are symbolic of individual activity and cultural ideals, as they simultaneously are central to the constitution and reinforcement of those very ideals. In short, the landscape is not innocent. Its role in mediating social and cultural reproduction works through its ability to stand for something: norms, values, fears, and so on. Through our ability to read landscapes, those very norms, values, and fears are perpetuated, reproduced, or challenged. This power of landscape makes it inescapably normative.”
    The power of symbols is the basis of this inescapable normative. I believe they hold so much power because they can often be vague and subtle, so many overlook them and in doing so often normalize the past injustices and perpetuate them into the future of an even more clueless generation that knows no different. They then will be more apt, in their ignorance and by default, accept what they see and hear without challenge. The power of symbols cannot be overstated. Their usage in our cultural landscape is a safer way, if you will, to ensure that the ideas represented are not lost. But does this not then backfire, after progress in their cause is made? It seems to me, that there is some important transition that must be made when it comes to symbolism. It can only be as powerful as the people and idea it represents. Therefore, when the people have an identity and cause and use a symbol they all understand, this progresses their beliefs. But then what often happens is that after their issue arises from the “fire” the symbol no longer ties the people together yet is still carried on. Soon no one even within that group knows why they are using the symbol in the first place because it is not a binding source. In this sense the very essence of community is the foundation of all change. If the community moves from the usage of symbolism, then it is their duty to use other means such as public meetings, speeches, and other community-focused activities to prevail in society. In the mean time, we all are walking amongst ghosts of our past we neither know nor understand, and yet their presence silently prevails.