Abstract: This case study conducted by a writing specialist and a theatre specialist examines the ways in which writing to learn and learning to write took form in a course in which the ultimate goal was a staged production for a live audience. Using naturalistic methodology that deployed both ethnographic and autoethnographic approaches to analyze the teaching and learning that transpired in Theatre 490: Experimental Theatre Studio, analysts reviewed the syllabus, assignments, production journal, responses to learning-to-write assignments, students' written final reflections, anonymous end-of-term course evaluations, a video of the final staged performance, and responses to a questionnaire completed by students nearly two years after the staged performance. Findings that incorporate video clips from the staged performance shed light on elements of teaching and learning that pass undetected when written artifacts alone are used to assess learning, including ways in which students learn from and about one another, learning through rehearsal and embodied performance, collaborative processes, framing research as an initial and collaborative venture, nurturing reflexive performances, learning to teach audiences, and engaging with invention as a social act. Implications are drawn for WAC/WID theory and for applications of Theatre 490 teaching approaches in courses outside of the performing arts.
The familiar WAC/WID binary of "writing to learn" (WTL) and "learning to write" (LTW) contrasts the "cognitive" or "expressive" elements of writing intensive pedagogy with the rhetorical elements key to learning the writing conventions of a specific discourse community (Bazerman et al., 2005, p. 57; McLeod, 1992, 2012; Russell, 2012; Thaiss, 2012, p. 87). Many WAC/WID instructors enact both sides of the binary by having students compose learning journals, engage in informal writing exercises, or freewrite brief reflections at the beginning or end of a class session, etc., then use such writing-to-learn activities to ground more formal writing that demonstrates mastery of disciplinary conventions (WID). This binary thinking about writing instruction, though a handy way of conceptualizing WAC/WID practices, has perhaps calcified: each side of the binary couples "learning" with "writing," and although research and practice in digital media have helped us understand writing as entailing far more than what we might see on the written page (Thaiss, 2012, p. 90), "writing" still connotes inscription for most readers. In teaching practices and many forms of learning assessment, moreover, the written artifact—printed or in digital form—is most often relied upon as the central evidence of learning.
Yet much important learning (and teaching) that transpires in a WAC/WID classroom remains undetectable using the written artifact alone: students readily demonstrate their learning under some conditions, yet not under others; they teach one another, sometimes in fleeting moments and/or ways unbeknownst to their instructors; they internalize some lessons for later applications or appear to ignore knowledge that they nonetheless possess; they perform silence while hard thinking and knowledge formation transpires, and no written artifact takes form; they produce something as a group—even if "only" the classroom culture of one academic term's work—yet memories of that group production might remain with students a lifetime and shape their very world views, as it has done for many of their instructors.
To access these kinds of learning, recent work in Composition Studies on performance (Anderson, Ngo, Stegall, & Stevens, 2012; Claycomb, 2008; DiPirro, 2012; Dorwick, Mayberry, Puccio, & Trapp, 2012; Fishman 2012; Fishman, Lunsford, McGregor, & Otuteye, 2005; Henry, 2012; Rhodes & Alexander, 2012) suggests revising the WTL/LTW binary so that "writing to learn" might be more productively paired with "learning to perform." When it is, new questions emerge: What kinds of embodied performances have we required in our classrooms, and how have they influenced learning? Have such performances prompted a self-awareness that might align with or augment self-awareness in writing or with respect to course concepts? How does learning accumulate, undetectable through written artifacts alone? How does it endure beyond one classroom and surface in another—perhaps in a different content area? How does learning transpire when the classroom audience imperative is one in which students' ultimate audiences are neither the teacher nor some simulated reader but rather some group of people vaguely anticipated at the outset of a course and situated increasingly as the most central concern as the course progresses to its culminating production? What does the individual student learn about his or her teammates (including the instructor) in this pedagogical and performative undertaking? What does the instructor learn about her or his students, and what teaching and learning adjustments are made?
Because most WAC/WID courses do not operate under such an audience imperative, they offer few ways to answer any of the questions above. Experimental Theatre Studio, on the other hand, offers the perfect scenario for sketching some preliminary responses. In such a course, the ultimate evidence of learning is not discrete written products but rather the final group production, the performance of collective expertise before a live audience. Whatever individual writing that has transpired along the way, as vital as it may have been for learning to perform, is in the final count secondary, one of several tools that enable the performance. The formal writing prowess of an individual may have in fact appeared quite marginal, but if it helped her develop a successful performance, that's all her co-performers ask of her. They are all in this production together—instructor included—and dependent upon one another as in few other courses. They act as a team, and as performance theorist Erving Goffman has observed,
Each teammate is forced to rely on the good conduct and behavior of his fellows and they in turn are forced to rely on him. There is then perforce a bond of reciprocal dependence linking teammates to one another. (1959, p. 82)
This bond of reciprocal dependence is perhaps the most distinguishing feature of Experimental Theatre Studio, with strong implications for writing to learn and learning to write—each in the service of learning to perform—as we hope to make clear in the case study that follows.
As we also hope to make clear, the WAC/WID practices necessitated by such academic performances hold potential for WAC/WID theory and for practitioners in courses beyond the performing arts. We use the case study in ways suggested by qualitative research methodologists Miles and Huberman when they describe sampling strategies that are "theory based": "finding examples of a theoretical construct and thereby elaborate and examine it" (1994, p. 28). The theories we are examining are those of WAC/WID, Audience, and Performance, and in the sections that follow we briefly summarize key tenets from all three for our purposes here. We then present our case study, drawing upon multiple data to elaborate, concluding with implications for further research and practice.
Hugely influential in the emergence of WAC/WID programs in the U.S. was the empirical work of Britton et al. begun in 1971 in Great Britain, using as its corpus for analysis over two thousand samples of writing composed by students aged eleven through eighteen across several curricular subjects (Britton, Burgess, Martin, McLeod, & Rosen, 1975). Their analysis leaned heavily on the communication model popularized by the Prague linguistics school via Roman Jacobson (1960) as tempered by Hymes (1968), leading them to posit four main "function categories" for the writing they analyzed: "transactional," "expressive," "poetic," and "additional" (1975). "Expressive" language was defined as "language close to the self, revealing the speaker, verbalizing his consciousness" (p. 227), with "transactional" language defined as "language to get things done" (p. 227).
With the implementation of WAC/WID programs in the United States, these two categories soon gained popularity for contrasting those writing assignments that might focus heavily on personal reactions with those focused on writing for disciplinary audiences. Expressive writing became strongly associated with writing to learn, as represented by Young and Fulwiler (1982), and as cited at the WAC Clearinghouse on its page providing a fuller definition of writing to learn:
Writing to learn is different. We write to ourselves as well as talk with others to objectify our perceptions of reality; the primary function of this "expressive" language is not to communicate, but to order and represent experience to our own understanding. (WAC Clearinghouse, "A fuller definition," n.d.)
This expressive function thus became associated with cognitive processes, with a student's relationship to the learning task at hand (Forsman, 1985; Farris and Smith, 1992), as well as with the instructor's evolving knowledge of students when such informal writing was shared (Herrington, 1981; Maimon, 1992, p. ix).
By contrast, the transactional function identified by Britton et al. (1975) became associated with learning to write in specific disciplines (WID), "to introduce or give students practice with the language conventions of a discipline as well as with specific formats typical of a given discipline" (WAC Clearinghouse, "What?," n.d.). Research on WID instruction focused student attention on specific audiences beyond themselves, e.g., readers of biology lab reports (Flynn, McCully, & Gratz, 1986), engineering lab reports (Kalmbach, 1986), or biology proposals (Myers, 1985). Writing assignments in such "learning to write" courses might "mimic" professional writing by inviting students to write in types of writing such as project or lab notebooks, progress reports, management plans, position papers, interpretive essays, casebooks, etc. (WAC Clearinghouse, "Alternate," n.d.).
A key distinguishing feature in the learning to write/writing to learn binary thus became that of audience, extending a central category in Britton et al.'s (1975) research, and this during a period in Composition and Rhetoric when research on audience burgeoned (Ede and Lunsford, 1984; Long, 1980; Park, 1982; Selzer, 1992). As valuable as this distinction anchored in audience considerations proved for both theory and practice in WAC and WID, it still failed to probe fully the phenomenon of embodied audiences beyond students' instructors and the learning that engaging with such audiences might provide. Though students might mimic the writing accomplished by professionals in learning to write across the disciplines, this mimicry could never fully provide understandings of audience reception as it would await students in professional writing. As much as students might "invoke" the audiences of a particular professional genre, their "addressed" audiences (Ede & Lunsford, 1984) remained their instructors.
Scholars from Composition and Rhetoric have emphasized the need to re-situate research on writing so that broader audiences and contexts are taken into account, to re-energize a classical understanding of rhetoric in which "discourse was seen as an event or performance, not an artifact or text; as dialogue or deliberation, not as monologue; and as subject to standards of effectiveness or expedience, not of form or correctness (Miller & Charney, 2008, p. 584). Such a re-situating of "discourse" as performance suggests tapping Performance Studies to support analysis of learning.
One of the most prolific contributors to the field of Performance Studies, Richard Schechner is one of the few who is both a critical theorist and a practitioner—as a writer, director, dramaturge, and actor, mostly in experimental theatre and with the agenda of exploring possibilities for and limits to performance as a meaning-making endeavor. He has stressed the centrality of audience in performance studies, stating flatly that "the audience is the dominant element of any performance" (1970, p. 90). For students in a course in experimental theatre, the ultimate audience for their performance was not their instructor but a group of people from whom they had to anticipate reception of their embodied, collective performance. The context for their performance was thus expanded beyond that of most classrooms, physically and rhetorically. The case study below traces exercises that intertwined writing to learn, learning to write, and learning to perform in this novel context to enable a staged performance.
Performance Studies scholars have also emphasized the self-consciousness required of performers, an element that suggests fecund interplays between writing to learn and learning to perform. Marvin Carlson has summarized this element: "Finally, performance implies not just doing or even re-doing but a self-consciousness about doing and re-doing on the part of both performers and spectators" (1996, p. 195). Our analysis in the following case study probes the issue of self-consciousness to determine if, how, and why it might have been heightened through this course in experimental theatre. Given the significance of metacognition in writing as students "rehearse new roles" to develop their abilities (Carroll, 2002), developing self-consciousness through learning to perform would seem a significant contribution to a student's growth as a writer.
The metacognitive work potentially enabled by the self-consciousness of performers relates to another of the main characteristics of performance, "restored behavior." Shechner has defined it:
In fact, restored behavior is the main characteristic of performance. The practitioners of all these arts, rites, and healings assume that some behaviors—organized sequences of events, scripted actions, known texts, scored movements—exist separate from the performers who "do" these behaviors. Because the behavior is separate from those who are behaving, the behavior can be stored, transmitted, manipulated, transformed. The performers get in touch with, recover, remember, or even invent the strips of behavior and then re-behave according to the strips either by being absorbed into them . . . or by existing side by side with them. (1985, pp. 35-6)
Through "re-behaving" while learning to perform, students are potentially also re-vising understandings of course material, thus enacting a behavior that has been central to writing studies since the advent of the process movement (Hairston, 1982). Moreover, the LTW half of the binary (often equated with WID) has been characterized as "teaching writing as a form of social behavior in the academic community" (McLeod, 1993, p.3). In this sense, our case study probes this possible connection between writing to learn and learning to re-behave as part of academic performamce.
This attention to "re-behaving" also calls attention to an obvious element of performance, the fact that it is embodied. Such embodiment possibly offers learning in conjunction with writing that few other courses offer. Schechner (the actor) has written that "[d]oing the movements of Noh concretely—even for such a brief period—told me more in my body than pages of reading" (1985, p. 31).
Finally, anthropologist Victor Turner has named a condition that might also apply to students in experimental theatre studio, "performative reflexivity":
Performative reflexivity is a condition in which a sociocultural group or its most perceptive members acting representatively turn back or reflect back upon themselves, upon the relations, actions, symbols, meanings, codes, roles, statuses, social structures, ethical and legal rules, and other sociocultural components which make up their public "selves." (1987, p. 24)
In the case study below, the final production, entitled The Journey, demonstrates a reflexivity on the part of the student actors, from its opening scene that emphasizes the many choices facing students in today's society through the ensuing scenes that leverage action and dialogue to focus on meanings, codes (and in particular the codes of multiple languages and cultures), roles, statuses, and ethical and legal meanings performed on stage to help everyone understand public selves in new ways.
The IRB-approved research presented here analyzes an Experimental Theatre Studio course taught in spring of 2013 as a case, drawing upon the following data:
This case study probes the research question, "How did writing to learn take form in a writing intensive experimental theatre studio course affiliated with a WAC/WID program in which learning to perform was the central goal?" And a corollary: "How do scenes from the final performance reflect writing-to learn as well as learning-to-write exercises and how did students who participated in this learning to perform reflect on the experience?" This research was conducted collaboratively by a writing specialist and a theatre specialist, who was also the teacher for the course and for the final production. Thus the research methodology was naturalistic and both ethnographic and auto-ethnographic, to represent the culture of this classroom in the context of the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. At times simple queries from the writing specialist, Henry, to the theatre specialist, Baker, revealed noteworthy parallels between these two disciplines. For example, when asked by Henry if "revision" played a part in the processes behind the final production, Baker responded, "Revision is the process." Otherwise stated, a common goal of writing pedagogy since the "paradigm shift" from product to process (Hairston, 1982), variously sought and realized by teachers in writing classrooms, was the sine qua non of Experimental Theatre Studio pedagogy.
Theatre 490: Experimental Theatre Studio is an elective course in the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa's department of theatre and dance. This course is considered an advanced course that mainly attracts undergraduate theatre majors (junior or senior standing) and graduate students in the department often seeking a Master's of Fine Arts in acting or directing. For the MFA students, this course fulfills the creative performance requirement for most MFA concentrations (i.e., acting, directing, playwriting). Professor Baker created a curriculum that qualified for two "focus requirements" that all undergraduates at UHM must meet: an "O," or oral focus, and a "W" focus, otherwise known as a writing intensive course. Hallmarks for W focus courses require significant interaction between instructor and student while writing is underway—and as the case study will show, interaction over writing in this course was quite significant.
This course was unique in that it demanded the entire class to work together collectively to create, develop, and produce an original production during the course of the semester. The task of exploring subject matter and moving towards a common goal to write and mount an original play in 16 weeks was a daunting task. That being said, course evaluations at the end of the semester identified this collaborative work as valuable, as summarized succinctly by one student: "The portions of the course that involved teamwork were the most valuable."
From the first week of classes Professor Baker worked to establish a framework that aligns with the Hawaiian concepts of laulima (many hands, collective participation), alu like (to work in unison bearing the task as one), and aloha (love, respect). Her pedagogy employed Hawaiian values for collaboration, creating a community of learners who take equal responsibility for their shared journey. Practicing these values in the classroom sought to allow everyone to contribute and take ownership in the learning processes.
The syllabus for Theatre 490: Experimental Theatre Studio appears in Appendix A. As it shows, the course was broken down into phases that began with research, then transitioned to improvisational exercises, then to developing a production format, then to finalizing the production text, then to finalizing and presenting the performance. An entire week was then devoted to collaborative evaluation of both the final production and the course as a whole.
From the very first class meeting, this course built toward the final production, staged in front of a live audience. Professor Baker welcomes this audience to the staged performance in Clip 1, Final Production Welcome.
Her brief welcome opens with a salutation used frequently at public events in Hawai‘i, "Aloha mai kākou"—"welcome to everyone"—and alludes ever so briefly to the fifteen weeks of process behind this production, representing it as the "hua of our hana"—idiomatically, the "fruits of our labor." As the next section demonstrates, this hana was not just writing intensive but "intensive" writ large, exposing a number of moments of writing to learn and learning to perform in this novel relationship between writer-performers and audience.
This section has been structured to mirror the phases of the course as mapped in the syllabus, while also signaling connections to the tenets from performance theory presented above. The structure is thus both chronologic and thematic.
Students' writing-to-learn production journals. As the syllabus emphasizes (Appendix A, Production Journal), a foundational tool for students was their production journal, in which weekly writing-to-learn exercises had to follow a standardized structure that (1) introduced the assignment or experience on which they are reflecting, (2) provided self-analysis with respect to the experience, (3) included examinations of objectives, (4) included reflections on discoveries, difficulties, and/or questions, and (5) tracked the student's take-away at this particular point in the production (and from the course). The instructor read each student's journal every other week. Concurrently, students were completing other writing assignments according to the Phases of the Course described in Appendix A. During the first three weeks—"Research"—students conducted significant research that might inform their ultimate production with ideas, themes, or questions.
Using students' research to ground the course. In contrast to many WID courses in which students complete a research project near the end of the course (and often on topics of their own choice and which neither implicate nor impact their peers), Experimental Theatre Studio positioned research as the point of departure, with frequent sharing among students as to how any one student's research might inform the next steps for everyone. This research, as indicated in Appendix A (Research), embraced an array of sources, including "novels, existing play texts, short stories, historical writings, oral histories, archival materials (newspapers, land deeds, maps, journals, etc.), theory (dramatic, anthropologic, feminist, political, etc.), mainstream films, television, magazines, music, dance, and other artifacts of popular culture." In short, students were given wide latitude concerning sources that they might want to bring to their peers' attention, while also gauging their own engagement with the source(s) and experiencing the other kinds of meta-cognitive work required by the Production Journal.
Professor's writing-to-learn puke ho‘omana‘o. While students were completing their research projects to inform their ultimate performance and their writing-to-learn journal entries, their instructor composed writing-to-learn entries in her own Production Journal, or Puke Ho‘omana‘o. This translation of the Hawaiian expression as "journal" falls short of its full connotations in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, the language of Native Hawaiians (or Kanaka Maoli), for "mana‘o," the base word, can mean "thought, idea, belief, opinion, theory, thesis, intention, meaning, suggestion, mind" (Pukui & Elbert, 1986, p. 236), and the prefix "ho‘o" serves to signal the act of remembering. Some of the participants in the class were Kanaka Maoli, some not, yet their instructor frequently used terms from ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i in written and oral discourse in the class, opening the possibility that these other connotations for the Production Journal might make their way into students' conceptualizations of it. Whether or not this connection was made, students definitely perceived that the instructor was reflecting on their individual characteristics as learners. In a questionnaire response, Puna said this:
I am a hands-on learner. As far back as from Hawaiian class with Kumu, she always made learning fun. Kumu integrated different aspects of everything we were to learn over the semester into a form of hands-on. Sure, I am but a single student, possibly more are hands-on, but for her to be able to read me as that kind of learner then apply it, that is what impressed me the most.
Puna's comments not only affirmed the practice of tailoring teaching approaches to specific learners that this course enacted, they also subtly linked this approach with effective teaching more generally through the term "kumu," or "teacher," a position that is esteemed in Native Hawaiian culture.
For her part, Professor Baker's Puke Ho‘omana‘o served many purposes: it was a place for planning and reacting to classes, a place to track responses to students' journals, a simultaneous tracking of her other course that semester in script writing (and occasions in which work in one course might inform work in the other), an occasional container for print-outs of e-mails to students, a place to track time during class, and a site where she catalogued notes to students with suggestions at the end of the week, as she describes in the three-minute clip below.
The time and energy that went into this Production Journal is striking, certainly exceeding class preparations of many instructors in WAC/WID courses. The frequent use of the journal by the instructor in class constituted a performance of the value of such journal use with her students as audience, thus sending a strong signal about the value of writing to learn. As she explained in the clip, the journal also documented suggestions to students to "self-educate" by attending performances in the community, thus positioning students as possible reporters back to classmates on how observations of these other performances might be used to inform theirs.
Embodied behavior and reflexive language use. While students were completing their research during the first three-week phase, they were also doing lots of in-class activities to learn the importance of nonverbal performance, including pantomime, movement, touching, and gestures that would accompany their scripts, as well as sounds they might make for stage effects. This early work showed up in their final production in many ways, including their stage entrance while chanting to open the play with "The Welcome Story"—"from which all things may—or may not—be realized":
This final script grew out of one of Sami's early scenes, "Then and Now," revised through rehearsals and development. For a local audience familiar with the Hawaiian Creation Chant, the Kumulipo, the hubbub of words and phrases during stage entrance evoke its semantics. Here is the beginning of Chant One:
At the time when the earth became hot
At the time when the heavens turned about
At the time when the sun was darkened
To cause the moon to shine
The time of the rise of the Pleiades
The slime, this was the source of the earth (Beckwith, 1981, p. 58)
Sami played the part of the oracle-like Mama, who after the chanting during stage entrance admonished her overly inquisitive son with the response, "Child, many questions asked." Mama's voice might be that of a wise elder, or kupuna, also an appeal to a local audience not only of Kanaka Maoli descent but also of many of the local Asian cultures that hold elders in esteem.
The voices of this Welcome Story would seem grounded in or at least informed by an early reading assignment and writing-to-learn activity, in which Professor Baker had assigned readings on akua (gods) and ‘aumakua (ancestral gods) and requested students to research their family gods, following up with a script-writing exercise:
In his Final Reflection at the end of the course, Sami acknowledged how this assignment influenced him, not only for this course's learning outcomes but also for future learning:
The stories of our ancestors, the ‘Aumakua, interested me the most as it was something that was of my lineage. I have little familiarity with our ‘Aumakua, but I know it exists. This exercise has prompted more of an interest in me to pursue that knowledge and see what information lies in our past.
Collaborative writing. While the "grand themes" were being developed, different scenes in development connected to life questions big and small as actors pursued their journey(s). The second scene, drafted initially by Melody, "Street Vendor," shows one actor as she ponders going to college, smoking pot, and dating:
The scene as it was finally staged emerged from collaborative writing. Once the script was authored and developed through rehearsals, questions arose as to staging. In earlier scripting exercises, Sami had demonstrated a talent for writing stage directions, for example on his initial script for "The Welcome Story," as excerpted below in Figure 1:
As the syllabus shows, students worked collaboratively to determine which students should perform which roles on stage and in the course. When seeking a director for this scene, Sami's demonstrated skills convinced his peers to designate him director. Working backwards from Melody's line of "Spin the wheel and find out who you'll get for your first date," he directed his peers to open the scene slowly circling Melody while following the script that had them making suggestions about her choices, thus enabling the smooth transition to the mimed spinning of a wheel, the movement that came to be one of the distinguishing features of the scene.
The genesis of this scene demonstrated Lefevre's 1987 thesis that invention is a social act, just as it demonstrated the power of writing to perform to structure participants' engagement with such invention. Responding to the questionnaire nearly two years after the staged performance, Nicholas Chun said, "I learned to work with others instead of against them … I'm aware about how I fit into an ensemble. I know that my place, no matter how small, plays a part in the show." His comments align with Lefevre's, who noted in 1987 the "radical individualism that pervades our culture as well as our composition theories" (p. 138). And though composition theories have fortunately evolved since then, university grading and assessment practices that follow from the broader culture and focus exclusively on individual learners certainly have not, depriving the university of knowledge of collaborative teaching and learning, a shortcoming discussed in the Implications section.
Learning to write to write to perform. These early scripts were assignments that students were given to learn fundamentals in script writing (and thus an instance of the Learning to Write side of the classic WAC/WID binary). Even as Professor Baker was accomplishing the many tasks indicated in the clip on her Puke Ho‘omana‘o, she was responding to these Learning to Write exercises with feedback and critique, as she explains in this 2 1/2–minute clip:
Because process pedagogy has become familiar to WAC/WID practitioners, the practice of improving learning-to-write drafts through response and revision is quite well established. Learning to write assignments in Experimental Theatre Studio reveal a new twist when the WTL/LTW binary is disrupted in favor of WTL/LTP: the ultimate outcome of students' drafts, the instructor's response to it, and whatever revision the student undertook would have to stand the final evaluation of immediate and embodied audience reception. In Professor Baker's structuring of this course, peer evaluation played a strong role, too, because those peers were not only engaged in similar learning-to-write exercises, they had to imagine themselves in the roles being written, perform those roles in rehearsals, and ultimately decide if the scene was good enough to make it into the staged production in which they would all perform. In this sense, the course achieved the goal sketched above by Composition & Rhetoric scholars Miller & Charney when they urged a re-energizing of classical rhetoric's understanding of discourse as "an event or performance … subject to standards of effectiveness or expedience, not of form or correctness" (2008, p. 584).
This process also oriented students toward time in a special way. Schechner has observed how in theatre development often the future "determines the past":
In a very real way the future—the project coming into existence through the process of rehearsal—determines the past: what will be kept from earlier rehearsals or from the "source materials" (1985, p. 39.)
This orientation toward "future thinking" represents a slightly different orientation toward time than found in most WID courses, in which the future, though represented on the syllabus and schedule with due dates and milestones, rarely bears upon collective efforts and collaborative performances so relentlessly. The future time of this course represented for each student not only a date when his or her individual performance would be due, but also a need to focus on regular writing and performances with the goal of "keeping" something of perceived value—even if uncertain as to exactly what that value might be. They all knew that on a specific date, they would be on the stage with their peers in front of the live audience.
Doing it again—hana hou. Schechner has commented on the special quality of rehearsal in fostering what he calls "performance consciousness":
The beauty of "performance consciousness" is that it activates alternatives: "this" and "that" are both operative simultaneously. In ordinary life people live out destinies—everything appears predetermined: there is scant chance to say, "Cut, take it again." But performance consciousness is subjunctive, full of alternatives and potentiality. During rehearsals especially, alternatives are kept alive, the work is intentionally unsettled. (1977, p. 6)
This "subjunctive consciousness" was fostered by Professor Baker's in-class development exercises, in which scenes with two actors would be repeated ("hana hou") to develop movement, discern a beginning, middle, and end, stage the scene while actors took turns sitting in the audience, discuss what they felt while they watched, then repeat, finally performing with a partner. She describes the ways in which this process played out over two class sessions in this 4 1/2–minute clip:
This hana hou process generated performances that engendered Schechner's concept of "restored behavior," as indicated by Puna in response to the questionnaire:
With every exercise, every acting role, I have to adapt to the role, yet still plug myself into that role. Many times the script calls for an actor to do something, and people think, "Well I wouldn't do that, that's weird." When what they should be thinking about is "why should I do that?" Performing in this course did heighten your self-consciousness.
Such self-consciousness as expressed here was also part of a self-reorientation toward the greater project, an engagement with the script that suspended an egocentric perspective in favor of one that inquired.
Moving, delivering monologue, and managing time. This process led to one scene in the final production with just two actors on stage, a couple who have been sharing life's journey for six months and who eat ice cream cones after, we learn, another trip to the hospital to consider Louis' chemo-therapy treatment:
The scene demonstrated that the early exercises in the course on monologue and movement were so fundamental that when developed successfully and performed remarkably well, they could hold viewers' attention absent dialogue between two actors on stage. Rendering the staged performance even more complex was the element of live ice cream cones, requiring a number of revisions to coordinate movement and monologue with the time provided as the cones melted (and added a metaphorical layer of meaning to the live performance). The experience of rehearsing and revising to perfect the scene not only enabled students to experience the performance consciousness of which Schechner writes but also to coordinate writing with time management, quite literally.
Composing transitions and building teamwork. Because the final performance was an amalgamation of many scenes generated by class participants that varied significantly in tone and dramatic intent, to render the overall play coherent, students were also tasked with generating devices common to written texts: transitions. As Drew put it in his Final Reflection, "Another concern of the class as a whole as we were putting the entire show together was how it would flow. We had a lot of universal themes, but to our surprise, all of the scenes were very particular to individual stories." In "Travel/Canoe," they drew upon their early experiences in pantomime while devising a quick transitional scene to get the audience from one scene to the next, all the while connecting to the play's central theme:
This scene, though brief, was clearly a learning experience for students. In response to the questionnaire, Nicholas Chun said, "The exercises (Travel/Canoe) taught me how to really listen and heed instructions from the person in charge/in the spotlight." Such an observation might seem common sense, yet when interpreted within the context of being on stage as an ensemble and needing to function as one, it takes on greater dimension—especially given that the scene as staged had been revised many times. Justin Fragao, who directed the scene, said, "I remember wanting the canoe to be a lot more intricate. We tried some things in rehearsal but hit a plateau as I attempted to make things more complex. I learned—or rather was reminded—that what may be simple for one person may be harder for another." Another actor, Puna, observed how much prior team-building undergirded such scenes:
I loved these exercises not just because it was active but also because it encompasses teamwork, especially the clapping one. When you are on the stage, all eyes are on you. If you have co-actors and they know how you operate because of team building exercises they can create a buffer should you ever line drop. It was an amazing experience and class.
Clearly, the embodied performances in this class required much learning about one another, and this learning was embedded in writing, re-writing, rehearsing, and performing in ways that both developed and leveraged knowledge about one's co-performers.
Performing reflexivity. These kinds of transitions enabled the production to blend serious drama with comic relief, as in the case of "Spotting Akule," the scene to which Professor Baker narrated her response above. In the final version, "Wally" and "Sparky" are journeying in a small plane, which goes down in the channel between O‘ahu and Moloka‘i:
As can be discerned from the soundtrack, this scene prompted a lot of audience response, no doubt in part because the humorous commentary was delivered with ample instances of Pidgin, or Hawaiian Creole English. A creole language that took form initially as a lingua franca among Asian labor immigrants in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Pidgin is a marker both of being local and of having some ties to the originators of the dialect. It has also been actively opposed in schooling contexts in favor of "proper English," as local audiences are well aware (Tonouchi, 2004). Thus Wally and Sparky share a special communication bond that audience members witnessed and no doubt related to with varying degrees of identification.
When Wally recounts his story of successful real estate brokering, this tale of economic success also indexes an enduring tension grounded in the paucity of affordable housing on the island of O‘ahu while the estates in the neighborhood of Kahala sell for several million dollars. Wally and Sparky, both obviously "local," have been transformed into akule—big-eyed scad in the waters offshore—who in this case are hoping the fishermen can spot them so that they can return to this reality and perhaps change their ways.
The culminating scene in The Journey also exemplifies the performance of reflexive selves as noted by Turner, with a particular emphasis on how public "selves" (1987, p. 24) are composed of sociocultural components. In this case, a boy has come to a public park to fly his kite, yet in the absence of wind he is unable to do so. A woman appears to instruct him in understanding his predicament, speaking in the same oracle-like register that opened this Journey. The boy's response calls attention to her register while using the vernacular, thus re-emphasizing the tugs between the lofty and the everyday that have been a central motif of The Journey—while enabling the boy to grow:
This conclusion revealed another aspect of audience when writers have written to perform for a live audience: they have been teaching this embodied audience a movement convention since scene one. Actors often journeyed onto and across the stage as a group (recall the transition scene and the troupe as it walks behind Wally and Sparky), so it is fitting that their curtain scene should exit the stage as a group—before returning to the applause that indicated their performance was a success.
At the end of the semester, after the staged performance in front of a live audience, evaluation took place. The University and the Department of Theatre require individual anonymous written evaluations of the course by students, in the tradition of teaching assessment that now pervades tertiary education. Yet evaluation in this course went much further, as reflected in the syllabus (Appendix A, Evaluation):
Following the culminating production/class performance students participate in a postmortem evaluation of the production. Students have an opportunity to share their perspective of the production. Then as a class we discuss the methods and process of mounting the production, all aspects of design and preparation, acting, directing, their participation in the process, what they enjoyed, what they would have changed, the audience response, what worked for the performance, what was difficult or frustrating, the goals of the story/play and if the goals were was achieved, etc. The postmortem is a healthy way to evaluate the overall effectiveness of the course and gives insight to student contributions to the final production.
In one of the Final Reflection comments, Drew said,
One of the most magical things I witnessed in this whole process was seeing my pieces come to life like I had imagined it in my head. Seeing what you write come to life isn't what a lot of people get to experience. And for that, I am grateful that I got the experience to take this class and meet all of these different people and see their progress as well.
It is certainly true that few people get to see their writing "come to life." For most undergraduates completing writing in writing intensive courses, the culmination is usually the final "paper" submitted to the instructor. The occasional project might be so exceptional that it achieves publication for a wider audience, and the occasional collaborative writing project might enable individual writers to enjoy the satisfaction that comes from successful collaboration. Yet few undergraduate writers get to witness an embodied enactment of their words, achieved through ample rehearsal and revision that inputs the thinking and acting of his peers. The Implications section below returns to this outcome.
Another student, Sami, wrote this:
The exploration of moving has always been ma‘a [familiar] to me, to my kino [body, form, shape]. I enjoyed working this way, and it is always great for everyone to draw from texts, movements, images, or original ideas. We did several weeks of this and from that I realized that I wanted to create more writing. I have always had difficulties with writing, and I felt as we began to explore more writing exercises I became more aware of my love of writing. I definitely have a descriptive way for writing and it may not fall under certain academic structures, but I feel if you have something to say it should be spoken no matter what way it is delivered. I like to explore the cadence of language, and this course gave me that opportunity. I really enjoyed hearing the words become realized in speech and hope to do more playwriting. It was even suggested to me that I have a certain emotional content in my speech, and it often shifts from when I am writing to when I am speaking.
Like Drew, Sami appreciated having his writing spoken as part of the final performance. His reflection also suggests that a latent potential for writing was tapped through this process. It is particularly striking that he focused on "the cadence of language," given the way he emphasized the cadence of words in the final scene as the woman admonished the young wannabe kite flyer. If Sami is able to explore further the shifts in emotional content between writing and speaking, it augurs well for his future playwriting.
In anonymous end-of-term evaluations, one student referred to speaking skills (recall that this course was oral intensive as well as writing intensive), suggesting that the whole process enhanced her or his expressiveness:
Personally, this course helped me with my stage fright. I hate speaking in front of crowds and people. This course helped me overcome that problem and open up more. I also learned how to tap into my creative side and work at being more mentally and physically expressive. I am very glad I took this course and have a whole new positive perspective on theater and all its entities.
This phrasing suggests a connection to the "expressive" function of language identified by Britton et al. (1971), the "cognitive" element of writing as it is represented in the WTL/LTW binary. The expressive writing in this course took form not as an individual cognitive function but as a collaborative social endeavor with transaction—the final production—as its raison d'être.
Another of these end-of-term evaluations included this comment:
There were many things that I think I'll benefit from personally that I got from this class: confidence, imagination, and exploration. Taking all three of these thing and using them as valuable tools in any theatre process.
Learning to perform, for theatre majors, is not a one-off act. Confidence, imagination, and exploration, apparently deemed important for development in this discipline by this student, are qualities that writing instructors often seek to instill. The analysis above makes it plausible that these individual qualities were enabled and supportive by the collaborative act of performing, as one final comment suggests:
The collaborative work we did as a whole class as well as bringing in our own perspectives for the culminating project. Working together with each other and having Kumu mediate us gave us more of a range of trust on our own part.
Implications from these evaluations and the foregoing analysis are drawn in the final section.
Scholars writing about Theatre Studies have engaged with the WAC/WID movement in productive ways, from descriptions of writing-to-learn assignments (Andrews, 1998), to accounts of low-stakes and high-stakes assignments as they can be tailored to the perceived predominant learning styles of theatre majors (Roost, 2003), to reconceptualizing an Introduction to Theatre course to become communication-intensive with the goal of building community (Hughes, Stevenson, & Gershovich, 2006). The latter offers a depiction of an assignment that requires students to complete a written production proposal as a way to practice theatre, thus sharing some ground with the research here. Werry & Walseth (2011) have described the outcomes and implications as a department of theatre and dance reviewed and revised its curricula as part of a Writing Enriched Curriculum pilot project, thus moving beyond individual classrooms to the level of curricula. Though none of these articles has analyzed the processes behind a staged performance to the degree presented here, they do offer validating views on issues such as metacognition, e.g., "Writing also performs a crucial metacognitive function, as students move between the intimate, often highly subjective experience of embodied work and the collaborative one of communication and creation" (Werry & Walseth, 2011, p. 189). Taken together and in conjunction with the findings here, these articles suggest that one might propose performing as a mode of learning, an allusion to Emig's positing of writing as a mode of learning that proved integral to WAC development in its early years (Emig, 1977; Russell, 2012, p. 20). Such a proposition might be developed through further research, and it would certainly align with many tenets from performance studies as presented above.
In the realm of pedagogy, the above articles offer several insights, yet none of them address the specifics of a course in "experimental theatre studio," a title that might lead some to expect an esoteric course appealing only to theatre cognoscenti. As the analysis above affirms, the work in Theatre 490 was anything but esoteric, and in fact Drew, in his Final Reflection on the course, connected the course title metaphorically to the classroom experience:
At times I was very frustrated because I felt like I could have done so much more if I had more time. But I realize this was a class and it was "experimental" theatre. We were just like scientists in this class and we had all the tools that we possibly needed to succeed to make an awesome show.
Though the students were not like scientists in terms of following the scientific method, they were like many scientific teams that leverage collaboration among several researchers to further their inquiry. This approach to teaching and learning writing as a team and the outcomes it yielded revealed several practices that could be imported into WAC/WID courses across the disciplines:
In revisiting the work by Britton et al. that opened this article, one is struck by their contention that in the corpus of student writing they reviewed, they perceived mostly extrinsic motivation rather than intrinsic motivation to write in students' texts (1975, pp. 7-8). That several students in Theatre 490 expressed the intention to continue their writing and research after the conclusion of the course indicates that an intrinsic seed was sown, at the very least. Such motivation cannot be attributed to this course alone, but in at least two students' formulation, there was a direct correlation.
The WTL/LTW binary has been qualified as synergistic, to the degree that instructors use both sides of the binary in complementary ways (McLeod, 2012, p. 55). We propose the binary WTL/LTP not to supplant the WTL/LTW binary so much as supplement it, suggesting ways to incorporate LTW activities in courses so as to anticipate and theorize performing as a writer across the disciplines and in scenarios that await students beyond the curriculum, when they join the workforce. Russell (2007) has noted the possible connections to be made between WAC/WID and professional writing, and Henry (2012) has investigated the work of professional writers in its performative dimensions, eliciting comments from them on behavior restored from earlier schooling as these writers performed. In identifying the skills and knowledge most critical to his performance as a writer, Pat Trate, a senior technical writer who has been practicing for over thirty years, listed four: communication skills, subject matter knowledge, production tool knowledge, and people skills. Interestingly, he listed people skills as the most important skill, which suggests that the many kinds of people skills nurtured in Theatre 490 play a much more central role in writing in the workplace than might commonly be acknowledged. Pat's vlogs also address teamwork as a writer, as do those of Amy von Kelsch Berk, a civil litigation attorney, Caroline Kettlewell, a free-lance writer, Cary Lee Daily, a senior systems analyst, Janet Scharp, a customer support analyst, and Charles Fisher, another technical writer. Their comments on teamwork as it figures into writing professionally validate the many comments of students in Theatre 490 on the role of teamwork in learning to perform.
Finally, this research and the course that generated it revives the work of Lefevre on the rhetorical device of invention and its understanding as a social rather than an individual act, with its implications for WAC/WID:
Writing across the curriculum—or for our purposes here inventing across the curriculum, using writing as a mode of inquiry—is potentially a radical movement which, given more time and a more fully developed theoretical base, could do much to revolutionize the structuring of knowledge in the university curriculum. This movement points toward alternative ways to teach writing and inquiring in all disciplines and a departure from the practice of localizing writing instruction in the freshman composition course, where invention has too often been presented as if it occurs in a social and intellectual vacuum motivated primarily by the students' need to fill pages to pass a course. (1987, p.137)
Insights from the teaching and learning in Experimental Theatre Studio may not revolutionize the structuring of knowledge in the university curriculum (Russell has observed that "WAC exists in a structure that fundamentally resists it" [2012, p.32]), but at the very least, these insights can inform teaching practices across the disciplines that position students to perform.
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