This past summer, PhD candidates LaRonika Thomas and Adam Nixon attended the 2017 Northwestern University Summer Institute in Performance Studies in July. The 5-day workshop, hosted by Professor D. Soyini Madison, included Northwestern faculty, graduate students, and Chicago theatre artists. Twenty participants were accepted through submitted proposals, 10 from Northwestern and 10 from other colleges and universities. The themes for this year's Summer Institute in Performance Studies were improvisation, narrative, and beauty, with a focus on embodied techniques of improvisation, the rhetorical power of narrative, and the ethics of beauty. Participants were encouraged to engage in the on-going question: how can improvisation, narrative, and beauty merge to embody moments of freedom and justice?
Seminar participants worked each day with distinguished artists-scholars in a practice-based workshop format. LaRonika Thomas’ dissertation research examines “civic dramaturgy” in Chicago theatre and she examines the intersections between performance and the socio-spatial dimensions of a city. She reflects on her experience at the workshop:
“One of the most satisfying moments for me, personally, came on our last day as we worked with artists from Honey Pot Performance. In the afternoon, we created small group performances based on movement, sound, writing, and imagery work we had done throughout the day [...]. As someone who is currently engaged mostly in the scholarly work of theater, and whose artistic background has never really been as a performer, the Northwestern University Institute on Performance Studies was a great reminder of the interdisciplinary nature and potential of Performance Studies.”
Adam Nixon’s proposal to the Institute highlighted the importance of improvisation, narrative, and beauty in the art form of digital cinema. He connects these themes from this year’s workshop to his dissertation project:
“My research blends the mediated with the embodied, looking at both the filmmaker and the film in a festival space. The filmmakers I study are building processes that stand apart from traditional Hollywood systems. They improvise from loosely sketched outlines and; they play in front of the camera. Beauty is captured when these filmmakers uncover a truth that is missing in traditional film practice. Like the subjects of my ethnography, I work outside of Hollywood with no money, making digital films that strive to be different while I build my own performative, embodied, and off-camera identity in festival spaces."
Throughout the course of the 5-day workshop, participants were able to able to think about their scholarly work through the experience of performance practice. They left with new tools to use in their teaching that will engage students and they have expanded their research methodologies to include more imaginative modes of ethnography and examination.
Participants at the 2017 Northwestern University Summer Institute for Performance Studies