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Ethnodrama and Open-space Learning

Applied Theatre as developed by Boal (1979, 2000) and in the field of Theatre in Education (O’Toole 1977) and reviewed by Prentki and Preston (2009) has a history of stimulating social action. More recently, ethnodrama is a way to perform research on key social issues that engages diverse audiences both cognitively and emotionally ( Akroyd & O’Toole 2010). Within health and social care, this is an effective and innovative way to engage stakeholders in the complexities and dilemmas of difficult contested areas. It is performance that is artistic but also critical social pedagogy (Shor 1992).

Ethnodrama has been a central interest of the OSL project. The rapidly growing and parallel practices of performed ethnography and verbatim theatre all seem at first a natural love match between human researchers wanting to re-create their rich data in living breathing form instead of a flat written report, and drama practitioners seeking to re-create experience authentically on stage.

The OSL project has explored modes of enactment in which data is experienced, embodied and exchanged through performances of one kind or another. Through the social processes of performing and responding, the inter-subjectivity of 'findings' is highlighted and opened up to multiple readings and re-inventions. There has been a conscious blurring of boundaries between artistic and 'scientific' notions of 'truth' and the various claims made for alternative modes of research in the arts and sciences. One of the tenets of OSL is a critical challenge to the myth of objectivity and the idea that there can be a pure or unmediated form of representation of data.

Taking as it's starting point the idea that any selection and mediation of data in the presentation of research involves acts of construction and the manipulation of effects, the OSL ethno-drama strand has pushed the boundary, if it exists, between fully shaped artistic representation of data and scientifically rigorous data presentation. Is data which has been consciously and transparently crafted and transformed by the artist any less 'truthful' than than the seemingly value neutral construction of the scientist? Or is it 'differently' truthful?

Two streams of activity have explored this mixture of research and theatre, identifying some of the opportunities and some of the tensions in both:

Verbatim Theatre in Practice, led by Annouchka Bayley

Performing Research as Ethnodrama: Passing On, led by Claudette Bryanston and Gillian Lewando Hundt