Encountering Texts

The Multicultural Theatre Project and «Minority» Literature

by Joi Carr (Author)
©2015 Textbook XII, 250 Pages


Encountering Texts represents the theory and praxis uncovered through an ongoing interdisciplinary arts-based critical pedagogy that engages students in critical self-reflection (disciplined, sustained thinking, requiring engagement) on difference. The Multicultural Theatre Project (MTP) is a dialogical encounter with literature through the dramatic arts. This book provides a blueprint for the multiple ways in which this enacted theory/method can be utilized as a high impact practice toward transformative learning. The significance of minority literature as fertile testing ground for raising and seeking to answer questions about difference is undisputed. To address this dynamic, this research utilizes Hans-Georg Gadamer’s hermeneutical method of understanding to engage students in the interpretive process using theatre as methodology. Gadamer’s concept, described as a fusion of horizons, provides a methodological approach by which students can bring their own «effective history» to the hermeneutical task. He argues that hidden prejudices keep the interpreter from hearing the text. Thus an awareness of these prejudices leads to an openness that allows the text to speak. The MTP facilitates this kind of subjectivity by engaging the interpreter holistically. This integrative work provides a promising pragmatic interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning that creates bridges to liberatory knowledge, both cognitively and affectively.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1. Introduction: Encountering Self
  • Talking Books
  • The Real Work Begins: Encountering Self/Texts
  • Part I: Encountering Texts: Rationale and Method
  • Chapter 2. Why This Work Matters
  • Transformative Learning
  • The University: Work Toward Wholeness?
  • (In)Beyond the Classroom: Transformative Learning
  • Chapter 3. Why This Method Works
  • Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Hermeneutics as Framework
  • “Minority” Literature as Decentering Frame
  • Accenting Particularity
  • Community as History Bearer
  • Resists Rigid Objectivity and Methodologies
  • Chapter 4. Praxis Matters: Embodying Texts
  • Theatre as Method for Encounter
  • Real Conversation and Play
  • Concluding Thoughts
  • Part II: What Is the Multicultural Theatre Project? A How-To Guide
  • Chapter 5. Project Description and Overview
  • Backstory: Strategy for Positive Intervention
  • Overview and Guide: MTP Production Process
  • Project Description
  • Preparing for the Production Season (Calendar/Venue)
  • The Production Season (Show Focus)
  • Production Staff/Crew
  • Auditions
  • The Retreat
  • Retreat Agenda at a Glance
  • Retreat Agenda
  • Rehearsal/Production Schedule
  • Multicultural Theatre Project: Theatrical Production Profile
  • The Piano Lesson by August Wilson (Spring 2000)
  • Harlem Renaissance Culture (Spring 2001)
  • Who Do You Think I Am? (Fall 2001)
  • Love is … Candie’s Café (Spring 2002, Part I)
  • A Different Mirror (Fall 2002)
  • Voice! (Spring 2003)
  • Motown and the Sixties, a musical (Spring 2004)
  • Jubilee: A Celebration of Gospel Music (Spring 2005)
  • Once Upon a Time (2006)
  • Everything About Love, a poetry recitation (Spring 2008)
  • The Jazz Age, a musical (Spring 2010)
  • Love is … Candie’s Café (Spring 2011, Part II)
  • Liberté (Spring 2013)
  • Lift Every Voice (Spring 2014)
  • Let’s Talk About Love (Spring 2015)
  • Alternative Programming
  • MTP Texts
  • Chapter 6. MTP Praxis: Medium for Encounter
  • Creating Space for Encounter: Developing a Learning Community
  • Benefits for Interpreters
  • Challenges for Interpreters
  • Employing Theatre Games: Conceptual Terms and Practices
  • Tools for the Actor
  • Terms and Exercises
  • Tips: Stage Directions
  • Tips: The Fourth Wall
  • Tips: MTP Traditions
  • Chapter 7. Developing Story, Developing Students as Texts
  • The Whole Self to the Task: Mind/Body/Soul
  • The Real Reward
  • Developing Story: Production Guide and Practices
  • General Production Notes
  • Tableau
  • Direct Address: Breaking the Fourth Wall
  • Blocking
  • Production Scene Transitions: Blackouts
  • Rehearsal Schedule
  • Prescript Work: Character Development Workshops
  • Creating a New Character
  • Creating New Scenes for Play Development
  • Creating Personal Monologues
  • Creating Fictive or Historical Monologues
  • The Production: Theatrical Formats
  • Chapter 8. Developing Story: Sample Playwriting
  • Selection Overview
  • Sample Script Excerpt A: Liberté
  • Sample Script Excerpt B: A Different Mirror
  • Sample Script Excerpt C: Love is … Candie’s Café
  • Chapter 9. Arts-Based Critical Pedagogy: Strategies for the Classroom
  • Reflective Response Assignment
  • Additional Arts-Based Pedagogical Practices in the Classroom
  • Part III: Discovering Best Practices Toward Institutional Change
  • Chapter 10. Discovering Through Assessment
  • MTP’s Emerging Picture: Learning Best Practices
  • Assessment of Strategy in the Teaching and Learning Process
  • Expands Worldview and Self-Understanding
  • Theatrical Process Enhances Learning
  • Encourages Academics/Sense of Vocation
  • Assessment of Strategy as It Relates to CDI Desired Outcomes
  • Challenges
  • In Closing
  • Chapter 11. Developing Your Strategy
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

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Special Thanks to—

The James Irvine Foundation.

Pepperdine University, Seaver College: Seaver Diversity Council (Irvine CDI Committee and Assessment Team), Student Affairs, Humanities and Teacher Education Division, Fine Arts Division, Warehouse Services, and The Center for the Arts.

Pepperdine University faculty/staff/administration for their critical project support: Dr. Raymond Carr, Dr. Constance Fulmer, Dr. David Baird, Marnie Mitze, Dr. Tabatha Jones Jolivet, Dr. Mark Davis, Dr. Cathy Thomas-Grant, Dr. Michael Gose, and Jody Semerau.

MTP Special Guests for your incredible artistry (gifts), generosity, and kindness: Amel Larrieux, Laru Larrieux, Keith David, Jason George, L. Scott Caldwell, Obba Babatundé, Wren T. Brown, April Grace, Lisa Vidal, Sean Patrick Thomas, Gwendoline Yeo, Assaf Cohen, Michael Boatman, Jayne Kennedy Overton, and all the other external friends and guests over the years.

MTP Student Coordinators for their invaluable energy and focus: LeRonda Smith Lockhart, Katrina Scott Foster, Timothy Foster, Angelyn Brij, Angela Muiruri, Shalonda Martin, Carla Romero, Glenn Fenderson, Darcy Hickey, Ashlea Owens, Marialorena Suarez, Miriam Rezene, Maia Rodriguez, Victoria ← XI | XII → Russell, Kaitlyn Ryan, Sara Kimura, Kendra Copeland, Carol Alban, Jessica Kerner, Blake Walker, Mary Gwen Scott, Daisy Yeh, and all the student tech crews over the years.

Academic Scholar/Mentors: Dr. Wendy Martin, Dr. Katherine Kinney, Dr. Alexandra Juhasz, and Dr. Constance Fulmer.

MTP student cast members and classroom participants for contributing their representative reflective thought and works.

Chapter 8, Developing Story: Sample Playwriting

“Communication,” “Kidnap Poem,” “Love Is,” “Mothers,” and “What It Is” by Nikki Giovanni were previously published in her book Love Poems (1997), New York: William Morrow.

Julia A. J. Foote and Maria W. Stewart’s story was previously published in Spiritual Narratives (1988), edited by Sue E. Houchins, New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Jean Park’s story by Christopher Kim was previously published in his book Three Generations of Koreans in America (1974), Asian American Studies Paper 199, Ethnic Studies Library Special Collections. Berkeley, CA: University of California.

Ann Pointer’s story was previously published in Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in The Segregated South (2001, 2014), edited by William H. Chafe, Raymond Gavins, and Robert Korstad, in association with The Behind the Veil Collective at the Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University. New York: New Press.

“Crush Everlasting” by Dave Ulrich.

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Encountering Self

It stretches you, makes you think the unthinkable, project yourself into people you even dislike. … It makes you stay in touch with yourself; I guess it’s like going under water for me, the danger, yet I’m certain I’m going to come up.

Toni Morrison (Taylor-Guthrie, 1994, p. 45)

I conclude with the openness with which I began this inquiry, by asserting that some of the learning that took place in this project is immeasurable—the healing, the loving, the exploration, the emancipation, the hope, and the reverberations …

—Joi Carr (Chapter 10)

Talking Books

I remember the first time I read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. I was so moved and riveted by the first words he utters, “I am an invisible man.” I could not put the text down. While I read, I cried, I shouted, I moaned, I hummed, I sang, I danced, and I prayed. I was haunted, even now as I remember. When I finished the book, I was full, full of hope, full of curiosity, full of my Ghanaian father, full of my West Indian, French, Native American, Russian, African American mother—I could hear her beautiful laughter, her quiet, incessant giggle, feel her joy, see my father’s face, hear his musical accent and tone, feel his passion ← 1 | 2 → for language and words. I thought, “What just happened?” I was absorbed by the text, with my father, and my mother, and my deep connection to jazz, spirituals, literature, and in my faith, all at once. I heard the text “speak.”

I heard what James Gronniosaw (1999) could not hear from his slave master’s prayer book. Though he curiously pressed his ear to his captor’s book, he could not hear … it speak. The prayer book Gronniosaw so often saw “talk” (p. 12) to his master refused to speak to him. And indeed, he “was very sorry and greatly disappointed” (p. 12) when he “found it would not speak” (p. 12), though he intently listened with all of his being. In response, he turned inward: “The thought immediately presented itself to me, that every body and every thing despis’d me because I was black” (p. 12). The young captive later learned that the prayer book was in the language of the oppressor, which accounted for some of the dehumanizing alienation he felt. How often do we approach a text that has refused to speak to us? How often do students experience alienation from a text that longs to confront them, “construct” them, construct us? Texts alienate—because each one is born out of a particular “horizon” that we often are not willing to acknowledge (Gadamer, 1998). Is this a bad reality? Or is it a good revelation and blessed opportunity to stretch, reflect, deconstruct, decolonize, and heal? James Gronniosaw learned the language of the oppressor and later told his story through it, as his story manifests as a site of resistance. The prayer book later “talked” to Gronniosaw and he “talked” back through the oppressor’s language, black—in perpetuity in a revelatory and revolutionary way.

Although my experience with Invisible Man (IM) occurs in an entirely different context than Gronniosaw’s, the trope of “talking books” gives language to my experience with Ellison’s text. It spoke first and I listened with my being. I believe I heard IM speak because I was honest and open. I did not sit as judge over it. I let it speak; that is, the text was subject rather than object. I was not exactly sure what “happened,” but surely that experience was an “event,” an encounter—a dialogical encounter that richly shaped me. Ellison’s call to consciousness, his dare, calling me to live in new way—full of infinite possibilities—was transformative and still is.

The value of self-knowledge is at the heart of Ellison’s fiction. For Ellison, self-knowledge is the acquisition of language and the will to speak oneself into existence, examining the very nature of “black” identity forged by external constructs. Invisible Man’s protagonist is determined to reevaluate these notions even at the cost of losing his self, that is, dying to the constructed self. Ellison (1995) is hopeful and exhorts his readers to step out of darkness ← 2 | 3 → into reality bestowing light, symbolized by the protagonist who steps out of unreality into the reality of his self: “I am nobody but myself. But first I had to discover that I am an invisible man!” (p. 15). “I’m invisible, not blind. … Life is to be lived, not controlled” (p. 576). Having experienced this dialogic, I was rocked by this life-affirming encounter and what ultimately became the Multicultural Theatre Project “happened” in me first.

A year before this experience, in Spring 2000, I was entrusted to inaugurate a new theatrical program on campus at Seaver College, Pepperdine University, initiated by a few faculty/staff members who wanted to create a theatrical space on campus for students of color. This program began as a desire to create a “space” on campus for theatrical events that features nontraditional casting. Such an opportunity meant if we wanted to have a Chinese Juliet in a production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, we could. Main stage productions on campus are rarely cast in this way. The initial program idea developed out of this desire. The first production was a stage reading of The Piano Lesson, by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, August Wilson, which I directed. I would like to note that Wilson generously granted license for the stage reading, without requiring a fee, upon hearing about our endeavors. In Fall 2000, the second show was a poetry recital directed by a colleague (Cathy Thomas-Grant), and then in Spring 2001, I wrote and directed the third production, called Harlem Renaissance Culture.

Soon after the work began, I realized the notion of assigning black, brown, red, and yellow bodies as leads in “mainstream” works—just for the sake of creating theatrical space for underrepresented members in the community to participate—did not resonate with me, although the jester has significance. Why not challenge main stage casting to use a 21st-century paradigm? I was unable to pinpoint my uneasiness with this notion, but it seemed this “new” alternative paradigm simply was bandaging rather than healing and engaging in superficiality rather than a profound dialectical encounter for its participants and the university community. The performance of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson was a historic moment for the university: It contained the first ever all black cast and was the first production that explored the complexity of class and America’s racial history in an explicit way. The subsequent multiethnic ensemble casts that followed that next year were also historic firsts.


XII, 250
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (February)
MTP Gadamer arts-based pedagogy
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XII, 250 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Joi Carr (Author)

Joi Carr is Associate Professor of English and Film Studies at Pepperdine University, Seaver College, and serves as the Director of Film Studies and the Director of the Multicultural Theatre Project. She received her PhD in English and film from Claremont Graduate University.


Title: Encountering Texts
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