Today We're Alive - generating performance in a cross-cultural context, an Australian experience

Doctoral Studies Completed Theses – 2014 Archive

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Linden Wilkinson

PhD thesis, conferred 2014

Using a mixed methods approach this thesis explores the construction and dissemination of a cross-cultural play within the Australian context. The experience of developing and performing this play confirms, I believe, the valuable contribution performance could make to the contentious domain of competing epistemologies within decolonizing research methodology.

Performance is able to interrogate the encrypted language buried within the emotionally complex terrain of decolonizing intent. By celebrating through story a shared humanity, performance can demonstrate both the on-going pain and shame of shared history and the possibility of moving beyond the negative towards a more positive collective future. Although this study did not find a reconciliation narrative, it did locate the beginning of one. Through an exploration of the Myall Creek massacre of 1838 and the Memorial erected to commemorate it 162 years after the event, this study found a narrative about the power of acknowledgement. This study also suggests that the cultural impediments to reconciliation lie within five persistent narratives intrinsic to the Australian colonization process.

Predominantly reliant on performance ethnography as the principle research methodology, the play at the heart of this research endeavour, Today We’re Alive, is verbatim theatre, where only the words that were spoken in the field and extracts of documents in the public domain contribute to the performance text. The voices that tell this story include Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal members of the Myall Creek Memorial Committee, descendants of massacre survivors, descendants of the massacre perpetrators and informed others recommended to me in the field. The first draft of the play was taken back to the primary research field to a community hall near the massacre site over 600 kilometres from Sydney for a performed reading. The six actor/co-researchers, three Aboriginal and three non-Aboriginal performers, delivered a performance that exceeded all expectations.

Several factors, I believe, influenced this outcome. Therefore this draft of the play is embedded in the body of this thesis, as the script and the performance of it are critical to the analysis of the research findings.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Michael Anderson