The Medium and the Message: Afro-Cuban Trance and Western Theatrical Peformance
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The Medium and the Message investigates the incorporation of Afro-Cuban trance techniques in Western theatrical performance. Through art practice and research, I am asking two questions: how do performers, trained in Western theatrical contexts, articulate their experience with Afro-Cuban trance techniques? And how can my research methodologies illuminate the inherent intercultural tensions in ways that are productive for performance practitioners and theorists? To answer these questions, I created four new works of theatrical performance where I developed a method for performers, utilizing Afro-Cuban rituals adapted for non-practitioners. Working toward a phenomenological understanding of what is happening when a performer incorporates a character, I drew on the ritual knowledge of trance possession in Lukumí and Palo Monte in order to examine how ontologies might speak to each other in artistic practice. I also served as advisor for the creation of a fifth work in order to test the method outside of my studio. I constructed a studio practice methodology, called kanga (from the Bantu for tying and untying), using three methods based on aspects of Afro-Cuban ritual, and modified for performance contexts: spell, charm, and trance. This methodology enacts and complicates distinctions between performance and ritual, serving as a contribution to respectful and responsible intercultural performance practices. My research-led practice includes autobiographical writing and auto-ethnography under a phenomenological research methodology that uses three methods for data collection: formal recorded interviews, video footage of the studio work, and regular rehearsal debriefings. The overall methodology, bridging theory and practice, is bricoleur, drawing from ethnography, psychoanalytic theory, and phenomenology. Both research and studio work led to the articulation of a state of consciousness in performance that I call hauntological. This borrows from Derrida (1994: 10) but is redefined to refer to a state of being where reality is co-constituted by the living and the dead, where ancestral spirits are invoked to do the work once reserved for characters. Finally, this led to the construction of a creative artifact called The Ghost Lounge, an art work that evokes a hauntological state of consciousness in the viewer.