If someone asked me to define my summer internship in one word, I’d say, “storytelling.” If I were given two words, I’d say, “performance ethnography.”
My goal for the summer is to get a lot better at understanding peoples’ personal stories (ethnography), and sharing their stories – as well as my own – with others in a compelling way (performance).
The first 20 days of my internship have been decidedly ethnographic. With the exception of a workshop I held for students at a community center in Springfield Missouri, my days have been spent listening, rather than talking. I felt that it was important for me to start in this order because my gut tells me that in order to tell a good story, I must first become a good listener. Over my cross-country drive, I’ve interviewed 32 people on camera, in eleven cities across America, in discussions that ranged from five minutes to two hours in length. From the electrical engineer who became a pastor in Tulsa Oklahoma, to the graphic designer who moved to Mumbai India to start a nonprofit, to the Polish refugee who built a large baking business in Chicago, most of my interviews were focused on people who took a big risk to follow a passion.
So now that I’ve arrived in Los Angeles, what’s next? Well, now it’s time for performance. In my mind performance is defined as taking an idea and sharing it with others in a compelling way. This can take many forms, from addressing strangers on a street corner to publishing a documentary. In the following two months, I plan to practice performance in three ways:
1. Open mics: Reciting stories at open mic venues throughout LA.
2. Improv: Creating stories on the fly and performing them in front of others.
3. Film: Telling story via short-form video.
To that end, next week I start my open mic training via Fresh Faces, a standup workshop instructed by the talented Leslie Wolff. I also start a one-week intensive improv course with the Upright Citizens Brigade. Finally, I plan to hit the editing room and produce a series of short, hopefully inspirational videos using the footage I gathered over the course of my journey thus far.
So there we have it: performance ethnography. Here we go-