Part II: How In
Memoriam Came to Be
For several years, Joonna Trapp, an English professor, had
hanger-on, an academic groupie of sort, to the Theatre and Speech
Department at her school. In Orange City, Iowa, in the middle
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,
with one of the professors, and even accompanied the students and
faculty to ACTF (the Kennedy Center American College
the time, she was thinking intently about collaboration.
else in the academy did she see true collaboration as it lives in
theatre departments. Along the way she also began to realize
the “lost” canon of memory wasn’t lost at all. It was alive
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
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
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
of my life, watching me. We had a young man here for a few
that I admired -- smart and an actor. He used to say that the
playhouse was full of ghosts in the corners. They mostly
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
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."
Joonna’s invitation prompted Bob to write a bit of Platonic dialog
between a student (Grammarius) and his teacher (Dr. Dubious), which
student named Grammarius
(played by Joonna) tells Dr. Dubious (Bob) to "write it down, fool!"
… but in the end we are no more and no less than what we
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
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.)
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
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
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
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
email as part of a job search. Keith didn’t know either
Bob. Paul was friends with Keith, and Joonna and Paul had
quite close, collaborating on scholarly articles as well as CCCC
sessions and committee work over the years. For the most
however, we did not have years of memories to draw upon nor deep
relationships. All we knew is that each of us loved theatre
were excited to think about how it connected to our teaching
lives. And we wanted to understand those connections
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
Memoriam: A Performance Piece on Haunted Pasts and four
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"
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.
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
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:
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:
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
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:
"We want to live,
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
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
Theatre studies recognizes this residual presence, this re-iteration of
the past, in the concept that Marvin Carlson calls "ghosting":
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
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.
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,
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
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.
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.
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
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
performance piece -- writing together, even simultaneously.
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
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
stage possible. Part of the relationship which allowed the
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.