Two Days until Staging Our Histories! Why we Can’t Wait

Excited for history to take the stage? You’re not the only one. Don’t take our word for it; check out why Ottawa, as well as the arts & academic communities at large, is psyched for history (a)live and off the page THIS SUNDAY! Get your tickets

Tweet us why YOU are excited for Staging Our Histories:  @stagehist

The Box Office is Open!

On May 31st, the National Arts Centre`s Fourth Stage welcomes theatre-lovers, film buffs, students, historians, twitterstorians, and anyone who has shared or appreciated history and memory off the page.

Staging Our Histories tickets are officially on sale at the National Arts Centre’s box office! Get yours today, and be part of history a(live). A $15 ticket includes seven performances, talk-backs with host Adrian Harewood, and a reception.

SOH Poster (1)

Staging Our Histories is a not-for-profit event organized by three volunteer co-directors, and supported by the Carleton Centre for Public History, Carleton University’s History Department and Carleton University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences-Office of the Dean.

Angela Wright

Angela Wright began writing poetry at the age of fifteen, using it as a way to
explore the world around her. The biggest influence on her poetry has been her
training as a historian, both at the undergraduate and graduate level. Her poems
often transcend temporal boundaries and demonstrate that, because of the
fluidity of time, events do not occur in a vacuum but rather reverberate across
generations.

For Staging Histories, Angela will perform a collection of poems that explores the
often-tenuous experience of people of African descent in North America. It is an
assemblage of poems written at vastly different moments, each poem with its
own inspiration, but they all explore the many legacies of the enslavement and
colonisation of black peoples on both sides of the Atlantic. These poems,
however, are not stories about the past. Rather, they are meant to serve as
contemporary stories that gaze into their historical antecedents to offer an
explanation for an imperfect present.

Though primarily a literary poet, Angela has dabbled in performance poetry,
participating in various showcases while an undergraduate student at the
University at Buffalo. She holds a bachelor’s in History and African-American
Studies and a master’s in History from The University of Iowa.

 

A Chat with our Co-Directors Part II: An Awesome, Mind Blowing, Intellectually Stimulating Show

IMG_3180On Nov. 29th, the three co-directors of Staging Our Histories (Arpita Bajpeyi, Sinead Cox and Marie-Anne Gagnon) met with colleague Christina Parsons via the magic of the internet to talk about the concept and their expectations of the event. You can catch up with Part I  of the the discussion here.

Christina Parsons: Do you feel that you may encounter some contention between people who have experienced certain histories differently?

Marie-Anne Gagnon: There are so many pages of history to choose from that it would be a big coincidence. But if so, I don’t think that would be a problem, but rather a great opportunity for exchange and fostering understanding.

Arpita Bajpeyi: Absolutely! Part of the event will be opening up the floor so that the audience and performers can have those conversations in a positive, constructive space. But I think the very nature of the performance implies each history will be a personal interpretation.

Sinead Cox: There will be the talk-backs. And as much as performance can be very cathartic and personal for a performer when they’re talking about history, I think an audience can also have a very visceral reaction, positive or negative. The day we had our performances [at Carleton], I remember it being very draining: they were incredible, but it was emotional. I think performance is great for engaging you intellectually and also getting you right in the gut.

Marie-Anne: We have left the theme very open-ended so that people can bring forward whatever project they would like. In future years (if we are lucky enough to make this happen again!) it could be interesting to narrow the subject to see different interpretations of the same topic

Christina: Very true, it would be great to see many facets of the same topic.

Marie-Anne: As Sinead was saying, in our experience, people chose very personal topics, that had to do with their own history or that of their family.I guess we wanted to see that happen again. Because it was so powerful.

Arpita: Those are the stories that were the most powerful.

Sinead: It’s interesting how commonalities pop up even when the topic is broad. I think patterns emerge. Like grandparents.

Marie-Anne: Did you know genealogy is the most researched thing at LAC? Just proves that people care about where they personally come from. Henry VIII can seem rather far.

Christina: Being able to share personal stories on a larger scale can be very affirming to someone who does not usually have that platform.

Sinead: Yes! And I think as much as [submissions] can be about a personal history, they can also be about NOT having that history. Of being divorced or alienated from your history, or conflicted about it.

Arpita: And that is something we’re hoping to provide, for sure. A space for histories that are typically overlooked or ignored because of the way that they are told, or because of who is telling them. And those can be incredibly powerful pieces too.

Marie-Anne: But I suspect we might also see performances about parts of history that interest the participants, even if they are not directly connected.

Sinead: What speaks to people isn’t always directly close, for sure. Maybe someone feels very connected to and passionate about Henry VIII! As long as they’re telling that story in a new way, we’d be interested.

Marie-Anne: Most historians study not their own culture. Part of being a historian is having a curiosity for what you don’t personally know.

Christina: Are you making an effort to include indigenous or counter-colonial narratives?

Arpita: I think the three of us definitely gravitate towards those kinds of narratives, for various reasons. I’d be surprised if none of them appear in the program!

Marie-Anne: Indeed.

Sinead: I hope so. Attention all of you with counter-colonial narratives: please submit!

Arpita: That’s part of the fun of this experiment. Seeing what comes our way.

Christina: What mediums are available? For instance, will you have audio/visual equipment?

Arpita: We will provide most equipment, unless it’s highly specialized.

Sinead: That’s a good question! We’re definitely interested in film and multimedia. So we will try to accommodate the proposals we accept within the limits of the venue.

Marie-Anne: We should probably mention how long the performances should be, and how long the evening will be.

Arpita: The evening will begin at 7:30, and performances and talk-backs will run until 9:30, after which there will be a reception. Performances should run between 5-20 minutes.

Christina: Also, for posterity, what day is it?

Arpita: Sunday May 31.

Marie-Anne: If you’re coming to Ottawa for the CHA AGM, please drop by! [It will be] an awesome, mind blowing, intellectually stimulating show. (You don’t need to include that. Just a fact.)

Sinead: It may need to be the title!

Keep an eye out for exciting news and updates about Staging Our Histories in  the days to come, including the official announcement of our venue! Many thank yous to Christina Parsons for her time, and for her thoughtful questions as our moderator. You can hear much more from Christina in her upcoming podcast, H is for History and read her work at History Watch.

You’ve read how the co-directors envision the outcome of Staging Our Histories, but the reality will be up to you, and the challenging, surprising and powerful work you submit by January 9th! Read more about the submission guidelines here.

If you have any queries for Arpita, Marie-Anne or Sinead before you submit, email us at StagingHistories@gmail.com.

A Chat with our Co-Directors Part I: Where ‘Staging’ Started

IMG_3180On Nov. 29th, the three co-directors of Staging Our Histories (Arpita Bajpeyi from Ottawa, Sinead Cox from Goderich Township, in rural Southwestern Ontario and Marie-Anne Gagnon of Montreal) met with colleague Christina Parsons via the magic of the internet to talk about the origins and concept of the event. Find Part II here.

Christina Parsons: So welcome, why don’t we start off with personal intros and an introduction [to Staging Our Histories].

Arpita Bajpeyi: Sure! We’re all graduates of the Carleton University Public History program.

Marie-Anne Gagnon: I am a public historian from Montreal. During my Master’s at Carleton, I had the pleasure of studying with Arpita and Sinead. We all participated in a Performance and Narrativity seminar in the Department of History [with David Dean], which is where little mind wheels started turning.

Sinead Cox: After graduation we were trained and excited to actually do history in public in inclusive and innovative ways. But we weren’t finding opportunities to necessarily do so right off the bat. Maybe Arpita wants to describe the exact moment Staging our Histories came into being.

Arpita: I think the exact moment for me was after a summer of volunteering for some really great organizations, and enjoying it immensely, but also missing Public History, and the things that used to interest and inspire me daily.The performances from David [Dean]’s class had stuck with all of us I think, and I remember walking out of his class wanting more of that experience, and being able to share it. So I got in touch with Sinead and Marie-Anne to see if they would be interested in taking on this project, to do just that.

Sinead: [Carleton] was a great environment for us, to both interact with wider theories and the current practice of public history, and to pursue histories that were very personal to us, that we were passionate about. And although we met in the same program, we had very different historical interests.

Marie-Anne: Public History has for many years been a way to push history outside of academia, by working more directly with museums and heritage organisations. But even outside of university walls, public history can be relatively conservative, sticking to the written word and physical objects. That’s why some historians are turning to performance as a new and exciting way to explore history

Arpita: And that’s why performance is such an amazing way to push those boundaries.

Marie-Anne: By partnering with storytellers, dancers, musicians, we can find more embodied, present, and emotional ways of experiencing our histories

Why Perform History?

Christina: Theories of performance in history are pretty cutting edge. Is breaking that wall with the public very new in the realm of history?

Marie-Anne: I think the public is accustomed to a certain way of interacting with history – mostly through museums.

Arpita: That isn’t to say that historians (however you want to classify them – academically trained or otherwise) haven’t been experimenting and challenging their various audiences for some time now.

Marie-Anne: Of course film and living history sites perform history for the public, but not in the same way as stage arts do.They can be great ways to spark an interest in history for audiences that are hard to reach by more traditional means. They often try to pair entertainment with educational material. But I don’t think that’s what we’re trying to do

Sinead: [Performance] is a way that history is already being shared, and has always been shared. So we’re not reinventing the wheel in any way, but we want to look at those methods seriously, and reflectively, and see how the storytelling avenue itself impacts the history. I don’t think it’s a new way to tell history, but I think understanding performance as history in the same way you understand a written source as authoritative is maybe still not the norm?

Arpita: Yeah, bang on there, Sinead. I think that’s something that’s really important to us here, is re-examining ‘traditional’ methods of sharing history and taking them as seriously as ‘modern’ ones.

Sinead: The interactive element of performance, what an audience brings in real time, is also something that I think can’t be underestimated.

Christina: Those are all really great points. I also really like the intersectionality that you are very consciously pursuing.

Marie-Anne: I think it might be worth adding that we’re not looking for performances that present history as fact. We welcome creativity, as the past can hold many truths, not all of them the cold hard facts of traditional historiography

Sinead: The idea for the event also comes from as a grad student reading a lot about performance and history, and it’s maybe more productive to just, well put on a show and do it. Which we got a taste of in David’s class; we all had to do a performance. Arpita danced. Marie-Anne sang. I had a little theatre piece. And we want to do that on a larger scale, with a mixed audience of academics, the arts community and the general public, and explore, as you said Christina, the intersectionality!

Arpita: Quite! I think we’re also looking for self-reflexivity, and an understanding that each story comes with its own baggage that needs to be understood and acknowledged.

Sinead: Good point! We’re really focusing on performances that explore history, and history telling, and are self-reflexive, rather than a straightforward interpretation, if such a thing exists.

The Honesty of Performance

Christina: Does performance allow for more self-reflexivity and truths than other mediums?

Marie-Anne: Performance allows the performers to explore their own personal baggage about certain events that touch them in some way, and to show to their audience how they are aware of their own biases.

Arpita: In some ways, I think it does allow for more self-reflexivity – though some mediums more than others. Film might more easily avoid it than, say, a poem.

Marie-Anne: Bias is usually regarded as something bad, to be avoided, or camouflaged. But in performance, history tellers can embrace their biases and show how history matters to them.

Arpita: There is definitely something very intimate and personal about a performance, and this will be emphasized by the nature of our venue too!

Sinead: I think with performance, just the connotation of that word, there’s more acknowledgement of artifice, of storytelling, than in written sources which are often taken as authoritative and reliable, and authentic, which is of course not always the case. So I think there’s perhaps an honesty or an understanding  that there is art involved, a particular perspective. So I don’t know if it’s more truthful, but I think it is inherently reflexive.

Arpita: Yeah, I really like that. An inherent honesty.

Christina: Does that lead to more personal histories intertwining with larger narratives?

Marie-Anne: I am hoping we might get some performers who intertwine oral history and performance. Oral history is very big in academia at present. I think people are realising more and more that personal stories matter.

Continue to Part 2

To follow the rest of the discussion, and learn more about what Arpita, Marie-Anne and Sinead envision as the outcome of  Staging Our Histories and its successful submissions, look for Part II on Monday, December 1st. Many thank yous to Christina Parsons for her time, and for her thoughtful questions as our moderator. You can hear much more from Christina in her upcoming podcast, H is for History, and read her work at History Watch.

You’ve read how the co-directors imagine Staging Our Histories, but the reality will be up to you, and the challenging, surprising and powerful work you submit by January 9th! Read more about the submission guidelines here.

If you have any queries for Arpita, Marie-Anne or Sinead before you submit, email us at StagingHistories@gmail.com.