Friday Essay – Performance Art and Storytelling

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.












2 thoughts on “Friday Essay – Performance Art and Storytelling

  1. Thanks so much, Brent! All your poetry is great – I’ll definitely take you up on your offer! Have a great holiday staying warm. You will definitely see me at TIP in the new year!

  2. Hi Laura. Just catching up on some email and was reminded to check out your blog. I’ve only looked around a bit but I can tell it’s quite spiffy. I’ll look forward to your posts in future. By the way you are very welcome to post any of my stuff. I’m heading to a warm spot for Christmas. See you at TIP in the new year. Brent

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