Friday, 16 November 2012

research, performance and the Bible: a moment of clarity

Why do I do what I do?

I am glad you asked.

It is possible that I have written about why I am a biblical storyteller, lead workshops in storytelling, and am pursuing research into how performing the texts as a storyteller leads us to discover meaning in the texts.
However, I have just had a late night moment of clarity as I ponder the path I am on, and thought I would write it down. For me, if not for anyone else who is interested.

Narrative theorists identify three sites of meaning in any given text: with the author and the author's world, within the text and the world of the text, and with the audience and the world of the audience.
My theory is that performance hermeneutics (hermeneutics is the process of interpretation) incorporates all three sites of meaning. For when a storyteller performs a text, she inhabits the text, entering the world of the text, its sites and characters and emotions; she takes the audience back to the world of the author who created the text; and she brings the text into the world of the audience. Three sites of meaning, complex and interrelated layers of meaning; and this is happening in every church around the world, when everyday lay people get up and read the Bible aloud. It's not just 'performers' - performance is much more than putting on a show, it is a doing, an enacting, an embodied action.

Meaning for the performer is found in the embodied nature of the performative moment: performance happens in real time and space, with humans in their bodies, performer and audience, together sharing this moment.


We have forgotten how to respect the moment of reading the Bible aloud - this foundational story of our community of faith. Because we have forgotten, we too often miss the opportunity to find meaning in the text by entering it fully with our whole being, and thus to communicate meaning effectively within our communities. 
Is it any wonder that the Christian church (in my Western context at least) finds itself not knowing how to tell our story? Do we really know our story at all? 

This is why I am doing the research I am doing, exploring the processes by which I, as a storyteller, discover meaning in biblical texts through embodiment and performance. So that I can pull apart narrative theory, explore a relatively new performance theory for biblical texts, and put something together to help those who read the Bible aloud in gathered communities of faith to do so in a way that helps us to remember our story, enter our story, and embody and perform it with our living, telling our story in this exile space in which the church finds itself in the West. 
I pray I can participate in this conversation helpfully, humbly, and hopefully. 

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