“I guess I’ll go this way. I think there is a Staples down there.”

Ok, so this is only tangentially related to my research foci, but it is evocative and intriguing. I had thought about doing a similar video installation (on my list of 9,383,832,928 things to do) that explores our running narrative about seeing people and their visible identity locations (or the assumptions I’d make about them) in public spaces.

Anthropologist Andrew Irving has recorded 100 people verbally narrating their inner thoughts in New York City as they walk through the streets. I found this part of the artist’s particularly compelling:

“…once urban life is understood as a whole-body phenomenon—indivisibly combining inner speech and imagery, muscle movement, the circulation of blood, heart-rate and the nervous system—it reinforces the idea that the seemingly congruent social activities we observe in a city are differentiated by diverse inner lifeworlds that remain uncharted across the social sciences and humanities.”

The idea of inner speech, imagery, muscles, blood, and nervous system all working together in a symbiotic relationship – this is exactly what many of us are trying to do with our acting students when they are working on text. And I particularly enjoy the emphasis here on urban life. Often, as voice teachers, we resort to a lot of nature imagery and metaphors. We often use our voice classes to escape our modernized world and get back to what is “natural” and “organic.” I’m interested in shifting the binary of nature = good/urban and modern = bad. Is nature imagery important to voice work, text work, poetry work? Omigod, yes. Especially if the text was written among those landscapes of yore. Can urban living create habitual tension in our bodies from low levels of the fight or flight reflex? Definitely. Living a city can have a negative impact on our ability to be vulnerable. That being said, what I like about this video project is that I see some green shoots springing out of some of these established paradigms. How do we, as students, artists, society, find a way to be expansive, empathetic, and vocally open within an urban environment? Can we challenge ourselves to use urban landscapes to explore our vocal potential?

For more information on Irving’s project, you can go here.

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“The ability to go un-examined, lacking introspection, in fact being rendered invisible…”

Dr. Jackson Katz is an expert on violence, media, and masculinity. Even though his expertise is only tangentially related to my research and pedagogy, he offers a wonderful and articulate definition of privilege as it relates to race, gender, and sexuality. The whole damn thing is worth a watch.

Bling quote:

So let’s talk for a moment about race. In the US when we hear the word race, a lot of people think that means African-American, Latino, Asian American, Native American, South Asian, Pacific Islander,  on and on. A lot of people, when they hear the word ‘sexual orientation’ think it means gay, lesbian, bisexual. And a lot of people when they hear the word ‘gender’, think it means women. In each case, the dominant group doesn’t get paid attention to, right? As if White people don’t have some of racial identity or don’t belong to some sort of racial category or construct. As if heterosexual people don’t have a sexual orientation. As if men don’t have a gender.
This is one of the ways that dominant systems maintain and reproduce themselves. Which is to say the dominant group is rarely challenged to even think about its dominance because that’s one of the key characteristics of power and privilege: the ability to go un-examined, lacking introspection, in fact being rendered invisible in large measure, in the discourse about issues that are primarily about us; and it’s amazing how this works …
Katz does an effective job here of depicting hegemonic culture as, by definition, invisible. When it comes to the pedagogical terms we use in our classrooms like neutral and standard, I feel a connection between these terms and the idea that dominant culture is so embedded, established, and unquestioned, that it becomes an epicenter where the minority constructs are all outliers. Outlier means exotic means inferior means substandard.

walterwaswaitingworryingandwatching

Ok, so I know things like this are up on Youtube for humorous purposes, but I think this is a great example of what happens to a language when you subtract prosody and intonation. English speakers will have a difficult time understanding a speaker if they do not have the contextual clues that speech rhythm and melody offer.
English teachers often focus on consonant and vowel pronunciation changes. English learners tend to focus on this as well as it seems more straightforward to learn. You can see that this is simply just part of the picture when it comes to being understood. Without the music and beat of a language, meaning is quickly lost.

“Embracing the complications and the contradictions”

In a recent roundtable discussion in Minneapolis, Asian American artists came together to discuss the current state of Asian American theatre, their influences, and the relationship between their creative work and their identity.

Key quote from poet Bao Phi:

I feel like America’s narrative talking about race and all of these things – gender, sexuality – is becoming more and more complicated, for the better. And I’d like to see media coverage embracing the complications and the contradictions, rather than figuring out what stories fit into preexisting narratives and paradigms.”

As educators, we can embrace this challenge as well and provide our students with more opportunities to express their own stories and explore identity intricacies. A number of students have told me that they have been given text to read/perform in class by authors that maybe shared their parents’ nationality or just the color of their skin and they sometimes felt pressure to connect with this writer.

Linda Her, a spoken word artist and activist, reflects on the intersectionality of their identity locations and the challenges this sometimes presents:

“My experience as a Hmong American queer woman and performer has been that when I’m invited to a LGBT specific event it’s filled with all white folks, and then when I’m invited to a Hmong space to perform it’s filled with majority straight folks. I would love to have a space that is inclusive of all your selves, your identities. For example, how is the notion of marriage equality different for couples in which at least one person is an immigrant? How can we include those experiences?”

I would also love such a space, Linda. When I’m with adoptees, I’m rarely able to articulate the deep somatic experiences I’ve had as a trained actor and voice teacher that have impacted the trauma caused by the separation from our birthmothers. When I’m with theatre people and academics, it is hard to articulate the part of me that is non-White and frustrated. Interracial adoptees and other diasporic have to deal with this fragmentation their whole lives. I’m used to it but never comfortable with it. And like these artists in this roundtable, I’m manifesting spaces that are more inclusive of all our different selves.

Bao Phi’s poetry is really stunning and full of complex layers. I will be posting some of his work in the future.