The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘performance art’ thusly:
an artform involving the performance of (usually non-narrative) actions in front of any audience, and often combining both visual and performing arts.
I’ve taken to often referring to myself as a performance artist. I have enjoyed playing characters and performing in front of audiences since I was quite young. Christmas concerts at school, violin recital (though I had refused to actually learn to play the damned thing), band concerts, school assemblies – I was never nervous and always enjoyed it. Through high school I was in every theatre production in which I could land a role. I did some liturgical drama as a young adult. As a religious professional working with children and youth I crafted and directed many rituals and services. I also did a lot of ‘performing’ – storytelling, leading rituals and services, singing. A few years ago I found burlesque – about which I have blogged many times! More recently I have fallen in love with spoken word poetry. Performing burlesque and spoken word poetry have really solidified this identity as a performance artist. According to the OED, however, ‘performance art’ is usually ‘non-narrative’. I suppose there are elements of burlesque and spoken word that are technically ‘non-narrative’, but frankly I see all art as having ‘narrative’ actions and elements. If nothing else the artist is telling his/her story in some way, even in an obscure or oblique way. Burlesque and spoken word, in particular, are not simply ‘performing’ arts. It is rare that a burlesque performer or spoken word poet performs a pieces that he or she hasn’t created from lived experience and imagination. I guess that’s the draw of both burlesque and spoken word poetry. These kinds of performance artforms give the performer – namely me – an opportunity to tell stories. The stories are told in a way that is immediate and visceral.
Maybe what I really am is a storyteller. Telling my stories through spoken word poetry and burlesque. Telling my community’s stories through ritual and collaboration.
Interesting musings for a slow, cold winter afternoon.