Seminar and Workshop | Ritual Vulnerability: Making Ethnographic Theatre

Monday, May 6, 2019 - 11:00am to 4:00pm
E24 Machmer Hall | UMass Amherst

ISSR and the Department of Anthropology are pleased to present a seminar and workshop on performance ethnography with Dr. Cassandra Hartblay. Dr. Hartblay has produced a documentary play, entitled "I Was Never Alone", from her ethnographic participatory action research with disability rights activists in Russia. Dr. Hartblay's public seminar and luncheon will be followed by a smaller, practical workshop. Both events are free of charge, but registration is required for the workshop.

Public Seminar

Ritual Vulnerability: Making Ethnographic Theatre
Monday May 6, from 11 am-12:30 pm
Machmer Hall E-24
Light lunch will be served

This presentation will describe the principles of performance ethnography as a multimodal research practice, illustrated through the example of I WAS NEVER ALONE, an ethnographic play about the life experiences of people with mobility and speech impairments in contemporary Russia. In crafting the script for I WAS NEVER ALONE I follow a long tradition of ethnographers who have sought opportunities to integrate creative practice into the work of ethnographic production. When an ethnographer writes for the theatre, this writing comes into being not only with the intention of being read, but also, of being performed. Performance, as a mode of communication, requires relational properties of social being – the planning and staging of a production, the collaborative discussion of how to represent life on stage, the unique coeval temporality of audience-performer dynamics, and the embodied properties of acting as a mode of representation. I propose that performance ethnography (a mode of knowledge production developed by Dwight Conquergood, and practiced by anthropologists including Magdalena Kazubowski-Houston) cultivates a space of ritual vulnerability between ethnographers, interlocutors, creative collaborators, and audiences. This observation builds on theories of interdependence and vulnerability put forth by scholars of queer/feminist disability studies, and on the idea, drawn from performance studies and the work of anthropologists including Victor Turner and Johannes Fabian, that in general, both performance and ethnography entail an embodied practice of being together in time. This presentation sketches the interpretive potential of ritual vulnerability as a modality for ethnographic knowledge production through examples that came to light through the rehearsal and staging of I WAS NEVER ALONE.


Performance Ethnography: From Field Notes to the Stage
Monday, May 6 from 1-4 pm
Machmer Hall E-24
Up to 12 participants
Coffee, tea, and snacks will be served

Registration is required for this limited-enrollment workshop.

How do you turn ethnographic fieldnotes and interview transcripts into scripts for theatrical performance? What kinds insights about temporal and spatial relationships, embodiment, and power relations emerge through creative mobilization of ethnographic data by thinking about a field site in terms of theatrical, rather than textual, representation? Decide for yourself by experimenting with exercises drawn from the multimodal practice of performance ethnography.

This workshop leads participants through a series of writing exercises drawn from the process of developing a play script for the stage that is based on ethnographic material. In general, these exercises are an invitation for ethnographers who have an ethnographic practice, and would like to engage their fieldwork archive in a new way. The workshop encourages all ethnographers – regardless of background with or interest in theatre – to engage in playful experimentation. The activities that we will explore together offer a low-stakes entry into ways of adapting ethnographic material for presentation to an audience. Participants will leave with a partial roadmap for how one might move from ethnographic transcript to theatrical script, and a sense of how writing for performance can enrich the ethnographic scenes that we craft for more standard written ethnographic forms.

Participants should come to the workshop with (1) a transcript of an ethnographic interview that they would like to work with, and/or fieldnotes related to the interview or a particular ethnographic event (hardcopy or digital), and (2) a writing implement (laptop or notebook & pen/pencil).

Bio sketch 

Dr. Cassandra Hartblay is Assistant Professor in Anthropology and the Interdisciplinary Centre for Health and Society at the University of Toronto Scarborough, with an affiliation with the Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at the Munk School of the University of Toronto. Dr. Hartblay’s research includes multimodal and arts-based methods, such as I WAS NEVER ALONE, a stage play based on ethnographic fieldwork. I WAS NEVER ALONE has been presented on stage at UNC-Chapel Hill, UC San Diego, and Yale University, and the script has been workshopped with research participants in Northwestern Russia. The play script, along with accompanying materials and exercises for performance ethnography, is under review for publication as an academic volume for the undergraduate or graduate classroom. Dr. Hartblay is a past curator of the Performance Ethnography Lab of the Studio for Ethnographic Design at UC San Diego, and a postdoctoral associate at Yale University in 2017-2018. She received her PhD from UNC Chapel Hill in 2015. She currently advises the Disability Anthropology Working Group of the Ethnography Lab at the University of Toronto, and is a contributing member of the Critical Design Lab (CDL) a multi-institution collaboration hosting a variety of creative research projects, including Contra*, a podcast about disability, design justice, and the lifeworld.