Part II: How In Memoriam Came to Be

For several years, Joonna Trapp, an English professor, had become a hanger-on, an academic groupie of sort, to the Theatre and Speech Department at her school.  In Orange City, Iowa, in the middle of nowhere, five professors along with a hundred or so performers (not all theatre majors) created an oasis of intelligent and risky performance.  Joonna attended rehearsals faithfully, team-taught with one of the professors, and even accompanied the students and faculty to ACTF (the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Competitions).  All the time, she was thinking intently about collaboration.  Nowhere else in the academy did she see true collaboration as it lives in theatre departments.  Along the way she also began to realize that the “lost” canon of memory wasn’t lost at all.  It was alive and well in theatre, and not merely enacted by the displays of pictures and programs from past performances in the lobby of the theatre building or the memorization of lines.  The values, hopes, and dreams of the past, the work of past students and teachers, the work of past actors and directors and designers were all part of the memories that shaped what that department did and the program’s role on campus and in the community.
 
Back in the spring of 2008, shortly after CCCC concluded, Joonna contacted Paul Puccio, Keith Dorwick, and Bob Mayberry, all English professors interested in theatre, to consider doing a panel on "theatre and teaching/writing." Her initial email included excerpts from an email conversation that she and Paul were having that spurred her thinking. Paul had mentioned his research on ghosts in the musical plays of Stephen Sondheim, and this prompted Joonna to write:
 
I so understand the ghosts in our lives and how we must live with them and through them.  My grandmother is ever with me in the corners of my life, watching me.  We had a young man here for a few years that I admired -- smart and an actor.  He used to say that the old playhouse was full of ghosts in the corners.  They mostly didn't bother anyone, but we did notice that if we moved stuff around, things began happening.  No one liked to be in the building late at night.  I always thought it was a metaphor for the hidden at our school -- much like the way drama gets at the hidden.

Paul responded, "Aren’t all stages haunted by all of those stories, all of those actors? And aren’t all productions haunted by previous productions?"  This inspired Joonna to invite Keith and Bob to join Paul and her as part of "a panel of papers/performances (?) about the lost canon of rhetoric -- memory -- as understood through the interactions of theatre/drama and pedagogy/teaching/writing."
A student named Grammarius (played by Joonna) tells Dr. Dubious (Bob) to “write it down, fool!”
A student named Grammarius (played by Joonna) tells Dr. Dubious (Bob) to "write it down, fool!"
Joonna’s invitation prompted Bob to write a bit of Platonic dialog between a student (Grammarius) and his teacher (Dr. Dubious), which included this:

GRAMMARIUS: … but in the end we are no more and no less than what we remember.
DR. DUBIOUS: Are you saying our character and actions count for nothing if we don’t remember them?
GRAMMARIUS: Unless others remember us or our actions, they and we are dust in the wind.
DR. DUBIOUS: Tomorrow I will forget much of what you say today.
GRAMMARIUS: So write it down, fool!

Keith jumped in with memories of a recent theatrical event he experienced well beyond the walls of academe: a Day of Silence that called attention to violence against queers. He encouraged us to think about creating a performance rather than a panel.
 
And then (Fanfare!) Paul introduced the crucial idea of "haunted pedagogy":
 
What I can contribute (I think) is a meditative piece (and if we can turn this from monologue to dialogue, that would be great) on "haunted pedagogy," if you will, how memory functions as part of teaching -- and I'd like to borrow from drama theory about the stage as a haunted space. How is my classroom haunted by past classes?  How is my teaching haunted by past teachers?  (Perhaps the loss of my undergraduate mentor this past year is a urging me on here.)  How do I, as a teacher, re-invent memories in order to teach?
 
"Haunted pedagogy" quickly became the focus of our individual writings.
 
In an email she sent the end of May, Joonna expressed some initial discomfort at the idea of performing, but you can hear her talking herself into the project: "I'm going to be the one the most uncomfortable with this format, but also the one the most excited since, like Keith, I keep thinking there's got to be a better way to share ideas and knowledge than reading a paper to an audience squirming in their seats."
 
By mid-May 2008, we were brainstorming via email on ways to make our presentation more than the usual hour of talking heads. We were looking for ways to present genuine dialogue. And we began exploring the metaphor of ghosts of previous teachers -- both our own, as well as our students’.
 
We all needed some time to think about this, or at least it seems so now.  It’s wonderful and exciting to think about breaking the mold, the confines of a conference talk, but how to make this work?  We lived all over the country, and we were very busy teacher/scholars.  Unlike theatre companies, we couldn’t have regular meetings, script sessions, and meetings with production and directorial staff.  Joonna had spent a great deal of time reading and thinking about team teaching and co-authoring, but writing together and developing a performance were very different things.
 
Could we do what others have said is important to do -- to be able to give up what might otherwise seem sacred to us?  Friendships often help in co-authoring. Kami Day, Michele Eodice, and other participants in the 2000 CCCC workshop "Imagining the Personal and Professional in Co-Authoring" spoke openly and often about the value of friendships in co-authoring.  Joonna had only spoken to Bob on the phone and in email as part of a job search.  Keith didn’t know either Joonna or Bob.  Paul was friends with Keith, and Joonna and Paul had become quite close, collaborating on scholarly articles as well as CCCC sessions and committee work over the years.  For the most part, however, we did not have years of memories to draw upon nor deep relationships.  All we knew is that each of us loved theatre and were excited to think about how it connected to our teaching lives.  And we wanted to understand those connections rhetorically.
 
We must have spent a lot of time "incubating" because it wasn’t until January of the following year that Joonna roused us from our solitary stupors with an idea that got us all back into the collaborative process: "I … thought that we might resist a traditional chair’s introduction—I would be happy to prepare a playbill of sorts that will include notes for the production."
 
Keith realized that fitting our individual pieces into a coherent performance was going to be difficult, especially since we were thousands of miles apart: "I think we need to meet virtually to do this; we can't plan this kind of event/piece via e-mail, it just won't work." He proposed that we use google.docs, and by the end of February, we were all pasting our individual pieces into a single electronic document. The piece began to develop in a free flowing sort of way, with each one of us willing to move pieces around, rearranging text to discover new connections, and adding new text to build connections. It was a heady week or so of collaboration.
 
Paul developed a program for the convention that included our panel title, In Memoriam: A Performance Piece on Haunted Pasts and four acts:
 
Act One
Joonna Smitherman Trapp, Ghostly Women of Chicago: Memoria as Female Empowerment


Act Two
Paul Puccio, Ghosts in the Classroom: Memory and Pedagogy

Act Three
Bob Mayberry, Unremembered Memory: A Dialog with Forgotten Teachers


Act Four
Keith Dorwick, Remembered as Ghosts: Making Our Memories Visible through Performativity

 
But the clear distinctions of our tentative program belied the real collaborations going on. Each of the four acts included all our voices, as we continued to revise the online document, interrupting each other’s text with ghostly voices. We retained the four-act structure for the sake of exploring and performing four distinct and coherent subjects, but no one had sole "ownership" of any particular act, as we all contributed to every part of the script.

At one point, Keith and Bob were simultaneously editing and rearranging the same section of the google.doc. One of us had to step back and let the other finish, before jumping in to add and rearrange the fluid text yet again. Joonna remembers typing in a sentence and then watching it disappear right before her eyes as new words rewrote her own ideas!  Offended at first, then overjoyed at the "rightness" of the new sentence, she moved on to work on a new section. Paul recalls his eagerness to enter the document each day: to see the changes made in his absence, to introduce new ideas and phrases and refinements, and, perchance, to meet one of his collaborators "between the lines." It reminded him of the excitement he encounters each time he walks into a theatre for a rehearsal -- the exhilaration that hums in the air when a group of people make art together. During this phase, the script floated in a virtual soup that seemed to change almost hourly -- the text and the performance really took shape.
 
Cover of In Memoriam By March 9 we had a working script. Keith printed the latest version and brought spiral-bound scripts to the convention; the binding made it easier for us keep them in hand and move about the room without  the risk of a shower of loose pages. We met in one of our hotel rooms to read it aloud to each other, assuming we were done collaborating and ready to rehearse the performance. But once we were assembled physically in the same room, once these words were in our mouths, once we began to consider how we would deliver this presentation, the writing resumed. Despite the spiral-binding and the polished appearance of the text, we soon realized that this was no "final" draft.

Our experience was much like producing a new play with the authors attending rehearsal; in fact, it was producing a new play with the authors present. We continued revising: adding connections and more ghostly voices, building in room for the improvisations we invented in the hotel room. For instance, in the original text, only Paul named the teachers who "showed me that gentleness has its own authority." Once we heard him speak those names, the rest of us wanted to name our own important teachers and mentors -- and so we added those other names, a litany of teachers who shaped the way we taught and thought about teaching. Those names would reverberate in a ghostly fashion from each corner of the performance space.

Once together in a room, we more fully appreciated the importance of dialogue among us (and among the many remembered people we spoke of) because these dialogues became embodied in our performance. In the original script, Bob related the story of his declaring that grammar was unimportant, with Bob and Joonna reacting in their own personae. In rehearsal, we developed a more dynamic (and indeed more dramatized) structure for this moment. Here is the original version:

BOB: Apparently some students in the class weren’t paying attention to the context of my remark and quoted me to a senior faculty member who then reported what my student said during the next department meeting: "Bob Mayberry tells his students that grammar doesn’t matter."
KEITH: Wow, just like that.
BOB: Just like that.

We revised (and performed) it as follows:

BOB: Apparently some students in the class weren’t paying attention to the context of my remark and quoted me to a senior faculty member who then reported what my student said during the next department meeting.
PAUL (as "senior faculty member"): Bob Mayberry tells his students that grammar doesn’t matter.
KEITH (as another faculty member): He does not!
BOB: Apparently he does.

Bob’s remark serves as the bridge between the brief memory-scene and the present, as well as functioning in a rather Pirandello-esque fashion: speaking of himself in the third person, he is both narrator and subject, a character conscious of playing in his own scene. Moreover, the scene captures not just a personal memory, but it recreates a particular academic culture. Bob is not merely reminiscing here about some wooly moment in his past; he is, in fact, revealing ideological tensions that still agitate within our disciplinary community. Patricia Hampl’s clarifying observations about memoir are fully relevant here: "Some people think of autobiographical writing as the precious occupation of a particularly self-absorbed person. Maybe, I don’t buy that. True memoir is written in attempt to find not only a self but a world" (314).

Another challenge we faced was presenting the quotations from plays that are prompted by (and are meant to illustrate or dramatize) particular commentaries through the script. There are textual cues -- such as "It makes me think of Ibsen" and "Amanda Wingfield, in The Glass Menagerie, has something to say about that" -- but we also altered vocal inflections to indicate the "appearance" of new characters. For instance, Keith declaimed, "What, has this thing appear’d again tonight?" in a much broader fashion than when speaking of his own experience, and Keith, Bob, and Joonna adopted an almost ethereal languor for the brief dialogue from Six Characters in Search of an Author:

KEITH: "We want to live, sir."
BOB: "Through all eternity?"
KEITH: "No, sir. But for a moment at least. In you."
JOONNA: "They want to live in us."

All of the dramatic quotations were meant to suggest traces of performances (as well as traces of un-performed text) that lingered in our minds; they are dramatic moments that haunt our text, linked thematically to the ideas about teaching that are at the center of our script .

The presence of such intertext demonstrates James Porter’s characterization of the writer as an "archaeologist creating an order, building a framework, from remnants of the past" (34). Just as we are haunted by our teachers, we are haunted by texts we have read -- in these cases, dramatic texts that also perform (and thereby inform) the ghostliness of memory that our script and performance present. As ghosts are interfused in the physical world, text is interfused in other text; as ghosts raze the boundaries between past and present, between the unseen and the seen, between the dead and the living, intertext breaks through the boundaries (the bindings, if you will) between one text and another, and between author and reader. Porter implies that intertextuality embodies a particularly ghostly form of "collaboration": "The traditional notion of the text as the single work of a given author, and even the very notions of author and reader, are regarded as simply convenient fictions for domesticating discourse. the old borders that we used to rope off discourse . . . are no longer useful" (35). We did not merely quote Guare, Ibsen, Pirandello, and Williams; in performance, the moments from their dramatic texts are again performed.

Theatre studies recognizes this residual presence, this re-iteration of the past, in the concept that Marvin Carlson calls "ghosting":

[The] process of using the memory of previous encounters to understand and interpret encounters with new and somewhat different but apparently similar phenomena is fundamental to human cognition in general, and it plays a major role in the theatre, as it does in all the arts. Within the theatre, however, a related but somewhat different aspect of memory operates in a manner distinct from, or at least in a more central way than in, the other arts, so much so that I would argue that it is one of the characteristic features of theatre [. . . .]  ghosting presents the identical thing that they [audience members] have encountered before, although now in a somewhat different context. (6-7)

Carlson’s theory that all theatre "is involved with memory and haunted by repetition" (11) not only shapes the script and performance of In Memoriam, it resonates with the broader claims that we were making regarding our lives as teachers and as students. We were seeking a richer and more nuanced understanding of our pedagogies (and even of ourselves as teachers) by recognizing the presence of the past in our classrooms and in our lives -- and as we were peeling away the layers of time, we wanted to reveal to our audience both the content of our discoveries and the process by which we made those discoveries.

One actor binding another with a rainbow ribbon With such an ambitious project, we knew that we could not just read this text. Like spoken-word poetry, our script was merely the "lyrics" (the written text); as Mark Otuteye explains, the "music" (how that text is inflected with further meaning) "lives in the performer" (239). And we could not perform this properly without blocking.  So, we made notes for movement, attitude, emotion, emphasis, and gestures. Not only did we want to express the nuances of the memories and reflections we were presenting, we also wanted to be sure that the audience would know where to direct their attention. After all, even collaborative presentations at CCCC rarely involve four speakers, and writing teams do not typically move about the meeting space, even among the audience. And so, we carefully underlined shifts in focus by stepping forward or standing in order to redirect the audience’s attention. When we left the hotel room that day, our scripts were filled with additions and edits and stage directions. The inventive process had lasted until the day before our presentation.
 
The result was a lively, dynamic and often spontaneous performance.  Sondra Perl, who was in the audience, described the session as "refreshing: a performance of performance theory rather than a discussion about it"; she thought the format both "engaging and risky." Another audience member Martha LaBare’s first response to our performing rather than reading papers was "not a panel presentation . . . not another panel presentation, thank God." She also observed that the performance of memories reflected, reinforced, re-presented the very point we were making about the role of teachers in our lives: "Since the influence of those strong teachers is sustained in the present, having them there through a performance piece was a rhetorical and pedagogical strategy. Having a group narration and reflection presented the particulars and the universals, and engaged us in your stories while also calling up  our own." We were successful in embodying in our presentation the ideas about performance and teaching that we’d started with the previous April. All of us felt as if it was one of the most significant events in our professional lives.
 
Actors jumping for joy! The performance could not have happened without our collaboration. Each of us was a crucial partner in the process, and all of our experiences and memories shaped the project.  Something happens in collaboration which cannot happen when a person works alone.  We believe that what happened for us was a model of the "dialogic mode" of collaboration as expressed by Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford in Singular Text/Plural Authors: Perspectives on Collaborative Writing.  Resisting a kind of strong leadership-led/"hierarchical" mode, our method was "loosely structured, fluid, multi-voiced, creative, and democratic" (133).  Renee Norman and Carl Leggo say that collaborating together allowed them to "enter a territory that [they] wouldn’t dare enter alone" (83). We feel the same way.  We needed each other to give us permission to take the risks.  We needed each other to encourage us to keep on even though we weren’t sure where we were going.  And we needed each other to make it as joyful as it was.
 
Given that a report from Philip E. Smith (2001) claims that relatively few English PhDs understand the work they do as collaborative in the academy, what we managed to achieve here in this play is significant.  We found a way to work in virtual space and create a performance piece -- writing together, even simultaneously.  Then when meeting face to face, we changed our method of working together and became improvisational artists. During the performance we worked together as an acting company, putting on our play and hosting the audience in attendance.  After that, we worked together in thinking how to see the play into print, and that has led us, much to our surprise, to now having a record of the production available for a larger audience.  On top of it all, In Memoriam is a kind of invented genre -- a scholarly play (and a playful form of scholarship), in that it deals with academic issues, classroom research, and theory.
 
Our process, through all its permutations, is an example of what Nancy Welch calls the lifelong project of "dialogue with the other" (51).  The four of us have built something together which goes beyond the play.  And like dramatic performance which is "composed," it is ever shifting and reinterpreted for a new stage and new audience.  We now have a relationship, one that made this last stage possible.  Part of the relationship which allowed the push to publication was trust; all along we have each kept our promises, been patient with each other, been truthful and yet supportive, each appreciating the others’ gifts.  We believe that what is communicated in our play is, on so many different levels, part of something beyond the self, both in learning and in living.