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A Trip to America

Performer and Deviser (2010)

Based on the comic performances of Charles Matthews, 19th Century raconteur, a series of reconstructive pieces was devised with a team (composer/musician, historical researcher, director, choreographer) and performed internationally at theatre and performance conferences.

Clown Meets Mathews

Performance Notes

Clown Meets Mathews

Performed by Barnaby King
Directed by Adam Goldstein
Historical Research by Tracy C. Davis

Musical Arrangements by Derek Barton and David Polack

Previous direction by Brant Russell

Dance choreography by Darren French

Special thanks to: D. Soyini Madison, Molly Jaeger, Paul Edwards, Pavritha Prasad, Noel Williams for their artistic input and moral support.

This performance documents a 2-year practice-as-research project based on Charles Mathews’ 1824 virtuosic showpiece, “Trip to America,” in which he entertained and educated his audience based on his own travels to the New World in 1823. It is also an exploration of the potential of performance as both a method of research and medium for transmitting knowledge. Finally it is a personal meditation on the experience of cultural dislocation (an Englishman in the US) and institutional incongruity (a clown in academia). It is still in process.

In attempting to reanimate a lost performance on the basis of scant evidential “remains,” using contemporary performance sensibilities, this devised piece reverberates playfully between the UK and the United States, as well as between the 1820s and today. It invites the audience to join with our struggle to interpret and identify with seemingly obscure material, and with our search for its contemporary relevance. It cuts across questions that are central to Performance Studies, such as: how can performance engage in empathetic embodiment and critique, both within cultures and across cultures? What is the value of a reconstructive paradigm in historical/ethnographic research? Why do we pursue projects even though they are manifestly destined to fail?

Engaging proactively with our audience has always been a significant aspect of our research model, both during and after the show itself. Following the performance, there will be an interactive workshop session, in which such broader concerns of practice-as-research and cultural exchange between the United States and Europe will be explored, in relation to the audience’s own experiences. This will be a chance to ask questions, but also to reflect on how your own research and practice intersects with ours.

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