Another of Jesse’s crazy performance ideas to try out on you (ignore if you’re sick of it!). AUTHENTICITY. The question of authenticity has been coming up in my work a lot and is always referenced by scholars and teachers. I kept dodging it because I didn’t think it was relevant, but I feel compelled to deal with it head on and see what I came up with.

 I didn’t think authenticity—understood as an expression of a true self—was relevant because lies and other deceptions are performances. Look at how skilled Sarah Sanders is at rendering inauthentic performances (ha ha). And look at professional actors on the stage: they’re there for eight shows a week beautifully rendering emotions that are not their authentic selves. Or, at that moment, are they? 

Cognitive neuroscientists have shown that under fMRI scanning, actors rendering emotions activate the same neural pathways as if their “true self” was authentically experiencing them. This speaks to my question of performance and experience. Traditional thinking has been that you experience some emotion and THEN wish to share it with an audience. Or, in writing, that you figure out what you want to say and THEN write it. Similarly, we assume that there is an authentic, true self that we need to “get” to and teach our students how to discover. 

My idea of the pedagogy of performance questions the traditional order of the creative process and how we understand the teaching of writing by considering how we teach the conservatory arts. Instead of asking beginning writers what they believe and then writing about it, maybe we should ask them to adopt multiple roles. Just as our youngest dance students would never be asked to choreograph their own pieces, why should we throw beginning writers into the terrifying position of expressing a self that isn’t developed yet? Over years of our dancers PERFORMING our choreography, they develop a vocabulary and a style that they can then begin to draw on when the inspiration strikes them to create their original work. 

In essence, as I keep saying, there is NO AUTHENTIC SELF, all we “are” is the roles that we perform. Therefore, in our teaching, we should focus not on helping the developing writer or the developing dancer “discover” (in the sense of “finding”) their authentic self, but we should help “discover” the authentic self in the sense of INVENTING it…through our performances. 

We don’t discover who we are and THEN perform it. Rather, we PERFORM and in so doing, we invent who we are.