OK. I wasn’t planning on posting a blog today but… I am working on a summary of this research project for the SSHRC Insight Grant. (The Notice of Intent is due 15 August. Lots of time!) The challenge is to distill the cultural context of this project into one paragraph. (Hard.) This is especially challenging for me since there is so much to say. I would love to rain down myriad examples showing the intensity and prevalence of the current cultural desire for “the real”, for contact with something authentic. It is everywhere.
Here is just the most recent example of this phenomenon. During the Olympic broadcasts, McDonald’s in Canada has unveiled a new ad. Take a look: http://strategyonline.ca/2012/07/25/mcdonalds-canada-employees-boast-twinkle-toes/ (Unfortunately I can’t just lift the video to insert it here directly. But you can see it on the website)
“Our focus in the last little while has really been about telling our story and the real ingredients, so this was sort of the natural extension to show the real people that bring these products to life in the restaurant,” explains Louis Payette, national media relations manager, McDonald’s Canada. This for me is the key — the connection between real ingredients, our real story, real people. All this working to shape our perception of a mega-corporation like McDonald’s as authentic — and all the good things that go with authentic.
This ad fits right in with documentary theatre using non-expert actors. This goes beyond autobiographical performance by trying to eliminate the performance part. In the McDonald’s ad, the point is to stage real employees who are also great dancers. They are not dancers acting as employees. In reality-based theatre performances, the person on stage is not a performer, they are simply themselves. There is a strong attempt to erase the “as” part. They are not performing “as” anyone. My list of examples, so far, includes Asha Jain in A Brimful of Asha, Itai Erdal in his solo autobiography How to Disappear Completely, 100 “ordinary” Vancouverites in 100% Vancouver. The “as” however in dance is significantly different than in theatre. In dance, the skill exhibited is to be a marvellous dancer. In theatrical performance, the lauded technical ability is to perform that “as.” Performing as someone else is the goal. Take that away and what is left? Good question.
(I think this will make a great conference paper for CATR next year. Hmm….)