Undergraduate Research: Theater Studies 2012/13

Monday, July 1, 2013
Humanities Writ Large

DON TUCKER: Highest Distinction for his original toy theater performance WALTZ

Don Tucker’s distinction project, Waltz, was a toy theater performance, created and directed by the student. By using Toy Theater (a form of puppetry that utilizes miniature scale, flat puppets) Tucker was able to execute the creation of a theatrical production using visuals as the primary means of storytelling. The story was told with no text but used actors, puppets and sound to communicate the narrative. This distinction project achieved: experiential knowledge of the field, collaborative skills and a greater sense of individual aesthetic and artistic identity.

Tucker conceived of the narrative and worked through the difficulties of design, rehearsal and production; the process followed was that of professional theatrical development and offered him innumerable experiences of the pitfalls and problem solving that comes with making new work. In addition, during this process Tucker worked closely with a core group of student collaborators who contributed to the production as designers, builders and performers. Through this process Don Tucker was able to define his personal aesthetic as an artist. He did this through the production’s themes, designs and performance style. The final product was a unique theatrical experience that only the student could have created.

KIMBERLY WELCH: Highest Distinction for her written Performance Studies Thesis: How Theater Workshops coupled with Mentorship affects Academic Performance

Kimberly Welch’s project was one of the few of its kind in Duke's Department of Theater Studies. Most of our students see performance as specifically connected to the theater stage. Kim’s pursuit of Performance Studies methodologies, specifically performance ethnography, led her through a different path of academic engagements, each one sharpening both her connection and commitment to different community partners and informants. After a service-learning course on performance and social justice, she began building a larger project to explore how/if theater workshops coupled with supporting educational mentorship might improve the academic performance and self-esteem of underserved black and Latino youth in the Durham public schools.

After IRB training and project approval, she spent the first part of the summer of 2012 pursuing one-on-one interviews to supplement fieldwork she completed during previous internships with Durham-based theater groups. For her distinction research paper, she concentrated her efforts on two local companies, one long established and one newcomer, and followed their work with groups of summer workshop participants over the course of two years, focusing specifically on how theater/art tools of self-expression offered students a way to articulate self-worth within an educational system where their cultural, linguistic, and intellectual experiences felt largely devalued. The results were mixed and somewhat indeterminate (as far as academic performance measures); however, the potential for performance as a personal and educational mentorship tool was undeniable. Her committee recognized the strength and value of Kim's work by awarding it Highest Distinction.

During the latter stages of the distinction project, she made a trip to Uganda as part of the Cooking Oil project, where she conducted interviews and assisted in developing performance workshops in support of that NGO-paired project. This trip offered her another window onto the efficacy of performance as a tool for mentorship, specifically education for women and girls. She returned to Uganda in summer 2013 to begin a new fieldwork project with new performance and NGO partners. That work will become integral to her graduate work in Performance Studies at UCLA, where she will be a student in the fall of 2013.

STEVEN LI: Distinction for his original play THE MILES and his lead actor performance in the piece.

Steven Li wrote an original play, The Miles as his senior distinction project. He also acted in the play, which was directed by Duke alumnus Marshall Botvinick. The Miles tells the story of the disruption of the lives of married couple Sam and Emma when an old friend shows up from the past. The one-act work examines the nature of love, duty and desire and what happens when they collide. The work of musician Sara Bareilles inspired Li to write his play. “Part of the allure of music is that a song can come out of the blue, on the radio or a friend’s playlist, and evoke a sense of kindred spirit,” says Li. Her music served as an initial springboard for this project. Steven chose to weave the music and songs (sung by the actors) throughout the play. The performance was well received.