A Question-driven Performance

The 1% of the Church (aka the clergy) gathered for some Prophet Sharing while the 99% sat down, shut up, and listened. An offering was taken.

As someone who spent many many years stuck in a pew, sitting, listening to a man elevated on a platform telling me what God had in store for my life, today I recoil from similar circumstances, no matter how LGBTQ-friendly. Yet, in my work as a performance artist/lecturer, I demand that my audiences sit and listen to me as I stand elevated over them expounding on my queer views of the world. This fact needled me especially at the Greenbelt Festival this summer in Cheltenham, England.

Unlike previous times performing at this magical progressive Christian arts festival with over 12,000 people popping in and out of talks and performances, this year I did not have time to conduct a Q&A session after any of my four presentations. I did encourage people to meet up with me at the Tiny Tea Tent (or the Teeny Tiny Tea Tent) or through Facebook or Twitter, but that is an ineffective way to have a public discussion.

Perhaps it is because of my growing Quaker sensibilities, where we Friends emphasize that everyone has something valuable to share (even if it seems dotty and random to me at times,) that I have felt the need to open up my performances more to input from audience members. Shortly after Greenbelt I presented at the Friends Meeting in York and decided to do something different. I created a list of possible excerpts and topics that I could present, but instead of doing a traditional presentation, I gave a very brief introduction about who I am theologically and personally, and then opened the floor for questions. I stated that we would experiment with a Question-driven Performance, where audience members questions would help me determine which excerpts and topics to present.

Risky, I know, but the risk paid off. We had an engaged, lively, expansive time together–a democratic performance of sorts. And with this successful experiment I took the idea to Malta where I presented Jesus Had Two Daddies. The play is about 50 minutes, so after a pause, I came back for a second half, a Q&A session with performance. Again it was risky, perhaps more risky than in York, because the Maltese audience was mixed with people who were decidedly suspicious of me and in disagreement with my stance of some LGBTQ issues and the Bible. But even with some questions that sounded like they had an edge to them, we had a community discussion of sorts around their questions and comments mixed with my answers and my performance.

No doubt I remained in control. It was not anarchy at all or a Quaker Meeting for worship, but it served to open space for more voices. Over the next few months I will continue to experiment with the Question-driven Performance, and who knows, maybe next August at Greenbelt 2013 I can give it a go.

I’m thinking about some ground rules to make this type of presentation effective, particularly in audiences of over 25 people. From many previous Q&A sessions I suggest:

1. The first three audience members to speak out will be female-identified (Ever notice that in most Q&A sessions–even with a majority of women present–it is almost always a guy who asks the first few questions. I’m not sure of all the reasons why, but it would be nice to disrupt this trend.)

2. Limit of one time at the mic per audience member. (I know I have the privilege of speaking MANY times during the presentation, but if I agree to limit my answers so as to get as many people as possible involved, I would like to stave off the temptation of a few people speaking multiple times.

What do you think? What would make this sort of session work for you? What ground rules do you suggest? Did you attend either the York or Malta performances? What was your experience?

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This post has 2 Comments

  1. Peter Leeson on September 27, 2012 at 11:33 am Reply

    I think this is a very good idea. It is very similar to a concept called “learner-centred training” which I have been using more and more in my own talks and courses I deliver. Let the listeners do the talking, let them tell you what they need to hear, you fill in the gaps.
    The idea of having the first 3 questions from female-identified is a good one if you believe that there are three f-i in the audience who are willing to stand up and speak first, I fear that by making a restriction like that, you may find that no one wants to speak first and that those who do have something to contribute are required to wait on someone else (this is not a women-men comment, I would make the same comment if you said that red-heads had to ask the first three questions), you need to get a feel of the audience for such a rule to work, and if it is the first question, you may not have enough information to decide. Changing the rule because no one is speaking up opens up other issues.
    Finally, as a Quaker, I tend to support the idea of having people speak only once in meeting. While this will cut down on the people who are just there to argue with you, it may create other problems, depending on the audience. May I suggest that you tell them they have to wait for six other people to have spoken before they are allowed to speak again?
    Finally, I would strongly recommend that you have a stop-watch and tell people they are not allowed to use the microphone for more than three minutes.

    Sorry I missed you in England, I was dealing with personal issues that I will not cover here.

  2. Jnana Hodson on October 8, 2012 at 9:15 am Reply

    Try it and see where the Divine Spirit leads. The worst that can happen is that you end up with a silent meeting.
    I support the only-one-time-at-the-microphone rule. Would like to extend it to all kinds of business meetings apart from our world of Quakers. Means people really have to focus on what they want to convey, rather than just mouthing off. Ditto for the three-minute max.
    You, on the other hand, have thought hard and deep about what you’re presenting. And people have come to hear that. That’s why you’re there in the first place.
    So just what is the Quaker version of “break a leg”? Mind the spotlight? Be fruitful? Or just Dance in the Light?
    Best wishes, all the same.

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