Performing Oral Histories: "Crossing the BLVD" and "Muscle Memory"
“What was life like in your home country?”
“Why did you leave?”
“What has life been like for you here?”
Lehrer and Sloan are also artistic directors of EarSay, “an artist driven non-profit arts organization dedicated to uncovering and portraying stories of the uncelebrated.” Their projects “bridge the divide between documentary and expressive forms in books, exhibitions, on stage, in sound & electronic media.” (EarSay Web). I look forward to reading the book, listening to the CD, and maybe catching a live performance someday.
Another community-based project that has caught my attention recently is the LEGACY Oral History Program at the San Francisco Performing Arts Library & Museum, founded by choreographer and performer Jeff Friedman initially to document the stories of dancers in the Bay Area, especially those living with AIDS. This multifaceted project now covers all the performing arts and includes a production and training program and educational outreach activities. A component of LEGACY I found fascinating was the dance Muscle Memory that Friedman choreographed, based on interviews with two dancers from the oral history collection, an elderly woman and a young man with AIDS. Friedman, who has a PhD in dance history and now teaches at Rutgers, has performed the piece in several venues around the country; he has also published a detailed article about it in the anthology Art and the Performance of Memory: Sounds and Gestures of Recollection, edited by Richard Candida-Smith, director of the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) at UC Berkeley. Perhaps I may witness a live performance of Muscle Memory, too, or another piece choreographed according to a similar concept.
Now that I’m aware of the approaches to oral history that Lehrer and Sloan and Friedman have taken, I plan to explore their projects in greater depth and to discover a greater range of work that uses personal narratives in creative ways.
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