Oral History and Performance

The Oral History and Performance Working Group is investigating the ways in which the oral history interviews collected by the Life Stories project can be used as the basis for performance in theatre, dance, music, installation, radio and video and the ways in which creative work can be used to bring out and link the cross-cultural similarities and differences in stories of human rights violation and trauma.


Lamentations from Matralab on Vimeo.The above video shows excerpts from Sandeep Bhagwati's theatrical piece, Lamentations, an exploration of the non-verbal, embodied effects of abuse and displacement based on the gestural analysis of video interviews.

The work of the group will result in the creation of performance projects in collaboration with community groups and through a special community artist-in-residence program, publication of research about the process of creating performance from oral history, and the development of ethical, aesthetic and methodological guidelines which will be documented in written reports and presented at conferences to disseminate the work of the group and to enable the duplication of the program in other communities. The group will also assemble examples of research and creation generated by the project into an anthology for publication.

Our Projects

The Oral History and Performance Working Group draws inspiration from participatory action methodologies to involve participants in socially engaged and self-revelatory performances by, for, and about their respective communities. The Working Group will help guide the creation of performance projects in collaboration with community groups, the publication of research about the process of creating performances based on oral histories, and the development of ethical, aesthetic and methodological guidelines which will be documented in written reports and presented at conferences. The Working Group will assemble examples of research and creation generated by the project into an anthology for publication. The Oral History and Performance Working Group will also collect 28 life story interviews with artists who are living in Montreal because they were displaced from their places of origin by mass violence.

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Collective Storytelling
The ways in which life story interviews can be used as a basis for performance in theatre, dance, music, installation and video will be investigated. The Oral History and Performance Working Group will also explore the ways in which creative work can be used to bring out and link the cross-cultural similarities in stories of human rights violation and trauma.

«Preserving Memories» Theatre Production
Community-engaged theatre focused on youth, women and elders will be created by Teesri Dunya Theatre members under the direction of artistic director, Rahul Varma. The ``Preserving Memories`` initiative will document the life stories of refugees living in Montreal from various communities. Teesri Duniya will provide the creative and artistic experience and platform to tell these stories in the form of a theatre production. As well, a series of public presentations using short films, multimedia and integrated arts like poetry,music will be produced. In 2010, a short film series will be presented and hosted in community centres year round.The methodology of oral history and culturally rooted story-telling will be used to explore refugee’s experiences of trauma and displacement, and thus, examine how horrific events in their countries of origin shape their individual and community life in their new homes.

«Gathering Voices: Living Histories»
Led by project partner, Creative Alternatives, and Concordia researchers and faculty, this workshop series wil draw on multiple applied theatre forms in order to invite reflection and catalyze dialogue among participants drawn from the project and wider community. Practices found within the Theatre of the Oppressed, developed by Augusto Boal, and Playback Theatre, developed by Jonathan Fox, will be used. This initiative will create a Living Histories Theatre Ensemble, comprised of members of diverse ethnic and linguistic origins. This ensemble will host theatre process/performances with community groups by presenting workshop/performances and inquiring as to whether there is interest in learning this form of inviting and sharing stories. The ensemble will also develop a Community Living Histories Theatre Kit containing exercises, and possibly video recordings of sessions, that participants can take back to their communities in order to create their own workshops.

In the «Faces Project» Dr. Lorna Roth of the Communications Department at Concordia University will look at the role of the face during the telling and recording of the life story:

"My interest is in helping to figure out what material is most appropriate for public radio, what would fit better with video, and what might best remain in the digital archive to be accessed on an individual basis. Does the anonymity or the disembodied voice on radio facilitate or hinder the public passing on of traumatic information/previously unspeakable histories? When and how might the face get in the way of oral speech? Would people prefer to speak facing a camera so that their emotions can be visually, as well as orally, transmitted to a viewer? When do people feel the need to have their voices or faces digitally transformed so that they can not be recognized by members of their reference communities should they wish to remain anonymous? How effectively can one express emotional content on radio or video without passing over into sensationalism? In this project, much of what we will be dealing with will have to do with the unsayable, with what has been personally unspoken about on electronic media forms in the past. What methods need to be utilized to assure that the speaker communicates the emotional texture of the experience but does not relive the trauma in a psychologically destructive manner? How can radio programming or video archiving be used to build bridges across a range of communities which have experienced comparative histories of troubled times?"

Artists-in-Residence program
Edward Little, Chair of the Theatre Department at Concordia University will be coordinating this program which will provide stipends to selected community artists to create performance-based projects with a clear link to the mission and activities of the project and the Oral History and Performance Working Group. Artists will be engaged for the duration of one year. Each artist will present their project at the end of the year, and co-facilitate and/or participate in project activities on an ongoing basis. Artists may come from the communities already involved in the Life Stories-CURA project, or other communities with similar or related stories to tell. As such, project Working Groups will see direct synergies between their work and the Artists-in-Residence program.