This image is the program cover for my newest solo performance, "Cross/Walking." I'm sitting here waiting to go to the theatre to get warmed up and set up and ready to go. I want to be in the right performance head-space, but I am also getting bored out of my mind waiting. So. Why not blog a little about it?
This show is a mash-up of interests particularly near and dear to me. First, I am a scholar of communication with particular interests in rhetorical studies and performance studies. For me, performance is both a mode of sharing and a mode of exploring. So, a lot of my work actually involves creating public events where I (alone or with others) share performance work exploring a wide variety of topics. But I also teach classes and run workshops where we use performance to explore phenomenon using a variety of protocols -- sometimes called "experiential learning" or "performative pedagogy."
I also have a strong interest in visual communication, with a particular interest in comics. I think there is a natural connection between some of the ways performance works with images and words and the ways comics do. I am also "drawn" (ha!) to the idea that comics are a particular kind of literature -- images in sequence bearing a closer relationship to literature than, say, film. But as comics theorists (they exist!) note, there is something going on in that space between illustrated panels ("the gutter," so to speak). A comics artist works creatively with that empty space so that the reader does interesting work in making the connection across panels.
Finally, I specialize in scholarship about environmental communication, including how we engage in public discourse about the ecological systems that support us. In environmental communication, we note that how we talk about nature, ecosystems, etc. is just as important if not more so than what environmental science usually tells about the same. I am drawn particularly to the role visual messages (from 19th Century landscape painting to pictures of the Earth from space, from films to activists' "image event" protests) play in shaping our understanding of environmental issues and motivating our action.
"Cross/Walking" deals with the intersection of all of these interests. The central thesis of the show is that we, in the US particularly, tend to be object- or product-oriented. We focus on things, objects, commodities, etc. I believe a positive shift in environmental awareness requires us to be more aware of processes and relationships. Using that idea of the "gutter" in comic strips as a staged visual metaphor, I encourage the audience to do the work of making meaning between images. In one piece in the show, this involves me telling stories between random illustrations of everyday objects, taking cues from the audience as to what images to use and how to combine them. In another, I give a mock lecture about an exploration of an "impossible mountain" that includes slides -- that have nothing to do with what I am talking about (I use a lot of my abstract comics in this slide show). At one point, I pass a rope out and through the audience so that we are literally connected by a material object.
Another theme of this performance is how difficult it is to talk about particular experiences (in nature, in performance, in our everyday lives) without relying on common and shared experiences. But, I argue, this also robs the experience of its particularity. So, recognizing that we transform spaces (pre-existing territories) into places (particular sites of personal meaning and experience) through our actions and communicative operations there, I encourage the audience to be less concerned about the difficulty of sharing particular connections to particular places than with the practice of place-making.
And if all that sounds too heady, then consider this: I rappel across the stage edge, I improvise narratives at the audience's direction, I carry a cross on a pilgrimage, I transform that cross into a gun, I amuse with puns and jokes, and I wrap it all up with images that echo and transform. And all in a little under an hour.
Should be fun. Let's see how the opening night audience likes it.