Practice as Research: Performing an Internship with CPAU
Having secured a wonderful internship opportunity as the Media Officer of a local Afghan non-governmental organisation, Cooperation for Peace and Unity, CPAU (see letter above), I have decided to interrupt/disrupt my studies for a period of 6 months. Not only will there be immense learning whilst on-the-job in the world of media and film production, partnerships with other civil service organisations (CSOs), NGOs, and the Civil Service will offer ethnographic insight into Afghan politics, cultures and development. This, I will report in due time when I arrive there.
Nevertheless, in a practice-as-research workshop exercise facilitated by Professor Jane Bacon at Chichester University, I drew the first mindmap as follows:
She was guiding us through some mental visualisation. I couldn’t remember what she was saying as I lay on the floor, comfortably breathing in and out, admittedly occasionally dozing off. That’s the life of a student who commutes. Any spare moment is a precious moment of recovery. Mental or otherwise.
In the drawing above, I articulated my sense of frustration in having to concentrate on what she’s telling us to do while I’m between conscious states. I felt her instructions were an imposition on my mind, a creative force wanting to take me somewhere else.
Jane Bacon then explained the differences between the “experiencing self” and the “remembering self”. I don’t know what their differences are as somatic markers, but I recall that the “experiencing self” refers to our intuition, whilst the “remembering self” is always in service. To a large extent, the “experiencing self” also refers to the spontaneity that is often associated with improvisations and the arts, especially drama/theatre. Perhaps during the abovementioned activity, I was immersed in the experiencing self, the felt sense of being between conscious states as I casually dozed off into a dreamscape. So when asked to “remember” and draw what went on in my mind and/or body, I felt restrained, hence, the imagery of a hand controlling a ball of volatile energy.
But what are the implications for research in performance, especially in the new field of “practice as research“, a term coined, I believe, by Professor Baz Kershaw. Other contested terms include “practice-based research“, “research through practice“, “research by practice“, and “performance as research” (see link). More specifically, practice as research — or PaR — has been distinguished as a separate research methodology:
Traditional research is an original contribution of knowledge, and originality is demonstrable within the research through the academic apparatus of bibliography, abstract, literature review, citations, etc. All of this is made manifest in traditional research but not necessarily in performnace or other forms of practice. Therefore, it seems necessary to insist that making the decision that something is practice as research imposes on you a set of protocols, as Simon Shepherd termed it, which fall into: 1) the point that you must necessarily have a set of separable, demonstrable, research findings that are abstractable, not simply loced into the experience of performing it; and 2) it has to be such an abstract, which is supplied with the piece of practice, which would set out the originality of piece, set it in an appropriate context, and makes it useful to the wider research community (see link).
In a separate activity, Jane told us to examine our research projects by using the list as a form. More specifically, she asked us to jot down the things we have and what it involves, e.g. naming the medium, media, tools, skills.
Physical/ Logistical (What It Involves):
- audio editing software
- transport from point to point
- video camera
- web domain
- web designer
- Dari – both spoken and written
Skills (What I Have)
- Storytelling/ Stories
- Forum Theatre
- Education/ Pedagogy
- Conflict Management
- Academic Research
- Computer Literacy
What I am — “I am an applied theatre practitioner”
- impact assessment
- conflict zones
- showing/ sharing/ performing/ witnessing
To iterate these, the list can be slowed down, can be re-listed and/or drawn. So I graphically represented what I needed in order to accomplish my research project in Afghanistan with Cooperation for Peace and Unity. From the preliminary background information supplied by CPAU on my job scope as the Media Officer, I looked at the list again and represented this as follows:
Jane told us to look at our list again and to identify what we favoured: what, who, where, how, why, when.
Surprisingly upon review, what I needed to accomplish my internship with CPAU appeared to revolve around the WHATs. Not so much the WHYs, HOWs, WHENs, WHEREs, or WHOs. The WHATs represented the equipment, facilities and hardware that I would need to facilitate the task of media production, or to see the applied theatre project come to fruition. I also noticed that I was much freer in spirit when I expresed myself visually, especially in pictorial form.
While this is just an exercise, there is much to think about in terms of my preferred mode of re/presentation. What FORM is being used to represent what (and when/where/how/why) is perhaps an insight into my own practice-as-research. It is a performance of research methodology, yet another journey into personal self-discovery.