The Vera List Center for Art and Politics: Melanie Crean and Claire Picher

The Vera List Center for Art and Politics: Melanie Crean and Claire Picher Building Better Speech Performance Workshops

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The Building Better Speech workshops explore performative and technological strategies to facilitate speech with groups that are affected by political transformation or upheaval. The workshops investigate how issues of identity and power can be communicated as a form of text, either through the body’s gestures, or through socially based technical frameworks in a form of collective action. The specific parameters of the workshops are designed in collaboration with the community involved, which specifies the issue it would like to explore. The sessions make use of a range of techniques that include performance, games, and open education models to facilitate dialog.

In this first pilot iteration of Building Better Speech, developed in the fall of 2011, the workshop is being designed with a group of high school girls associated with Turning Point for Women and Families, a Queens-based organization that supports Muslim American families dealing with issues of domestic violence. Earlier in the fall, the girls began meeting to support each other and solve problems. The Building Better Speech workshop will use this desire to self organize as a point of origin.

The project began with a series of automatic writing assignments through which the girls explored issues that they say repeatedly come up in discussion: stereotypes, faith and terrorism. Key concepts and phrases originating in the writing will generate two types of screen prints, one based on text, and the second on images that the text connotes. This content will then be used to frame a series of theater performance games

These games are modeled on Augusto Boal’s “Image Theatre,” and consist of a series of performative strategies employed to represent thoughts and ideas through the physical medium of the body. Participants explore issues of power, decision-making and communication, by posing their bodies and the bodies of others to create physical images that can depict concepts such as emotions, social issues, or events. After observing the images, the group reflects and discusses what they have witnessed, the most significant part of the process. 

The techniques improve communication within groups, but also serve to build ties to allies, by promoting mutual understanding. Physical images augment the spoken word and help overcome the greatest obstacle to communicating: the challenge of being heard. Accordingly, the project culminates with an open workshop, presented during Performa, where the public will be invited to explore issues of stereotyping and identity together with the girls in a shared session of collective performance games.



Presented by The Vera List Center for Art and Politics.