Theatre and anthropology: unusual but possible

Maria Giere

When I tell people that I am majoring in anthropology and theater arts, I usually get “Well, that’s an interesting combination.” as a reaction. At first glance, the two do not seem to be readily compatible. However, I feel that both of them are different and effective ways of studying people.In an advisor meeting my sophomore year, I was told about performance anthropology and performance studies. This was what I was waiting for: a connection! This was a concrete way of bringing my interests together. Performance anthropology is a way of using anthropological concepts to improve performance, and theatrical ideas to conduct better anthropological research. Performance studies, a related field, applies the idea of performance to all fields as a way of thinking about people.

These ways of looking at the world frame my current research interests. I started last year researching anthropological studies of theater as it relates to acting — my other passion. I found that very little work had been done studying Western theatrical conventions and practitioners.

This brought me to the idea of studying identity construction in American actors. The fact that actors juggle multiple identities that are the result of their own creation simultaneously is fascinating to me. I want to study the process of identity construction as well as the experience of being another person for two hours, eight times a week. I want to use people’s stories to find out how our brains conceptualize the idea of the Self.