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Friday, February 24th
3:30 PM

The Work of the Dramatic Imagination in Embodying Unvoiceable Loss: Devices for Staging Grief in Contemporary American Drama

Jacob Mann Christiansen, University of Montana, Missoula

UC South Ballroom

3:30 PM - 3:45 PM

Because theatre is a (crucially!) communal art form, part of what dramatists offer to their audiences is a shared experience. The “shared stage,” as I call it, has historically been a place where communities negotiate questions of human experience: identity, ethics, and social responsibility – yes – but also kinship, love, and grief. Conversations on how communities grapple with death and grief have been made simultaneously more crucial and more tenuous by the global pandemic. Theatre artists can contribute uniquely to these conversations through the work of shared storytelling experiences. In this analytical survey of contemporary American drama, I explore methods by which playwrights use the “shared stage” to explore the deeply human reality of grief.

My participation in this ongoing project began as cooperative research with Dr. Bernadette Sweeney in the summer of 2022. Together, we designed and offered a community workshop: “Ways of Remembering: Staging Grief Together” – part of a larger project by the University of Montana, Re-Imaging Death: Conversations About Dying, Loss & Grief, which was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The workshop explored dramatic texts where grief was a central element. A dozen Missoula residents gathered across three weeks, unpacking these grief-texts using textual and embodied analysis (acting).

In this presentation, I carry the work forward, looking more specifically at contemporary American drama. How do the playscripts of the 21st century embody the heart-deep experience of grief? My analysis builds from the central themes of the original workshop, which were ritual, remembrance, ghosting, and preparation. I expand that initial toolbelt, looking especially at uniquely theatrical devices for staging grief. The work here is comparative, rather than summative. It is not a comprehensive list, but instead a robust conversation between grief-texts.

3:50 PM

Identity and Performance Anxiety in Classical Singing: A Counseling Perspective

Jadd D. Davis, University of Montana, Missoula

UC South Ballroom

3:50 PM - 4:05 PM

In this practical research, I propose that performance anxiety in classical singing is more than simply “stage fright”, but a mental health concern directly tied to perceived identity. Classical singers, for whom professional preparation is lengthy and rigorous, are often referred to solely as their function in the fabric of a performance. For example, a soloist in oratorio or opera is simply seen as “the tenor”. This limiting of the totality of human embodiment weds performance outcomes with sense of self. The singer’s positive or negative perception of identity hinges upon a subjective measurement of success. The rigor of classical study combined with this identity/outcome relationship can result in symptomatic anxiety which negatively impacts the physiology of the singer, risking poorer performance outcomes and perpetuating the cycle onstage and, more concerningly, off.

In this presentation, I compare my embodied experience as the tenor soloist in Handel’s Messiah over two separate performances - one before I began studying clinical mental health counseling and one after – and show (through live performance) the physiological differences in vocal technique. I will discuss the clinical symptoms of anxiety, model tactics for mitigation, and share my own journey as a counseling client whose deliberate cultivation of a non-contextual identity positively impacted my experience as a performer (and human).

It is no secret that mental health concerns are rampant among those whose identities are contingent upon precision of execution in a public arena (singers, athletes, etc.). Mental health strategies that holistically address the individual, rather than as an achievement-oriented “means to an end” are critically important tools for the performer, teacher or coach. For singers, this is such a tool. For teachers and coaches, this illustrates the tangible results of positive mental-health cultivation and culture.

4:10 PM

Professional Mascot: Work as a Performing Artist

Trevor Lee Pressler, University of Montana, Missoula

UC South Ballroom

4:10 PM - 4:30 PM

Professional mascot work has a complexity and depth of storytelling ingrained in the work. Although typically viewed as a silly hobby, when held to a high standard being a professional mascot can be lucrative successful career path for a performing artist. The profession of mascot demonstrates strong skills in acting, dancing, and storytelling. The University of Montana’s Mascot program in particular has been a spring board for several U of M alumni to go on to pursue this career professionally as;Benny the Bull for the Chicago Bulls, The Cyote for the San Antonio Spurs, as well as the current mascot for the Houston Rockets, Clutch. My research in this field from roughly 800-1000 hours of performing between 2009 and 2014, suggests that the development of a mascot character as a performing art in a non traditional performing arts space can advocate cross-cultural understanding and exchange in local communities. My continued exploration of this field will allow the utilization of immersion theater in an unconventional space with an unconventional audience as further investigation into this concept. With this in mind, the work can bring attention to critical social issues that need addressed while simultaneously rallying support for these issues.For instance one could improve turnout at events involving fundraising for programs benefiting those in need, all while providing a unique perspective through performance as an instrument to call for social justice. This can be accomplished by using a developed character with undefinable traits (such as race, sexuality, and political affiliation,) to present performances that evoke empathetic emotional responses from an unconventional audience regarding these social issues.