Britt Banaszynski


A New Genre of Mythic Performance

  • Faculty Advisor

    Annie Beserra

  • Faculty Advisor

    Billy Siegenfeld

Published On

May 2011

Originally Published

NURJ 2011-12

Amelia Bell | Photo


The development of ROOTS of EARTH has a long history in my creative research and is the primary artistic work of my current Honors Project in Theatre. The project acts as a avenue for the synthesis my training in dance, acting, music, choreography, and direction during my time at Northwestern University. During the first phase of the Honors Project, I reviewed the literature and works of artists who practice these artistic modes in cohesive, multi-media performances. I found that these multidisciplinary performance artists (e.g., Bill T. Jones, Blondell Cummings, Joe Goode, Emily Johnson) consistently research their own autobiographies and memories as a source for incubation of their voices as multi-disciplinary artists. By engaging with their specific pasts in live performance, these artists transform in the language of their individual voices. However, these artists’ works tend to be limited to solo performances, and, almost always, reject dramatic narrative (a story) as a way of organizing and presenting the research. These works, which tend mostly to live in purely felt, non-logical realms, also tend to allow meaning to get lost as its translates from artist to audience. My research questions, modeled from these artists’ research, include: How does my autobiography and memory serve as a resource for the creation of original work? How do the elements of live theatre (music, dance, acting, etc.) synthesize to create an opportunity for cohesive, multi-sensory storytelling? How can I transfer my solo research into an ensemble performance? And, most importantly, how do I, as an artist, make meaning from this research and how does that meaning transfer to an audience?

I have structured my Honors curriculum to build on twelve months of creative research under the title, ROOTS of EARTH, which has revealed to me the significance of researching the emotional memories tied to questions of home, faith, and identity. Initially, the research took form by diligently looking at significant moments in my personal history (including autobiographical moments and memories) and organizing them into the aforementioned categories of home, faith and identity. From there, I magnified these events, exploring their connections with poignant moments and relationships in my life, and engaged in dance, and music and theatrical exploration in order to deepen my understanding of these moments. By fusing these multi-sensory products of research, I created a cohesive evening of dramatic theatre. I presented this theatre piece as a culmination of research in February 2012, to an audience of student and professional peers for review.

After this solo presentation, I move into the arena of ensemble storytelling, wherein I transfer the choreographic, musical, and theatrical ideas I developed in the studio, to a group of dedicated actor/dancer/musicians. The methodologies for research in the rehearsal room will be based on the principles of devising work in a form I call intentional storytelling. In this performance development technique I created during the course of an Undergraduate Research Grant, the creation of scene, character, and dramatic moment requires improvisation and collaboration: the ensemble decides, collectively, what each scene in the show needs to accomplish for each character (the intention of the scene), and then pulls from the plethora of artistic capacities of our actors to create the drama. The performance, modeled on the presentation of my solo research, can take the form of comedy, dance, physical gesture, spatial play, music, song, or poetry, all in service to the singular and simple intention of each moment. Therefore, what maintains the show’s cohesiveness is the ensemble’s service to intention.

My final research question, in which I ask how meaning can be transferred from artist to audience, dictates the organization and presentation of this work. My hypothesis is that story is the ultimate link between how an audience and artist make mutual meaning within a performance. Story, as it functions in performance is, essentially, drama. Drama occurs when two characters, emotions, or worlds collide in conflict and then, by whatever theatrical means, resolve. Therefore, though it may be unconventionally told through multiple media, the dramatic story of ROOTS of EARTH will be reliably present in every moment. Effectually, this story model invites the audience to both witness and connect to a characters’ growth, relationships and, ultimately, transformation. ROOTS of EARTH opens with an omniscient character who introduces the thematic questions of the play (not unlike the Greek chorus of the Theban Plays), as the ensemble comes to life inhabiting characters of a mythic forest whose trees sing forgotten lullabies and its people are doomed to lost wondering: two sisters, whose energies ride silent from the exhaustion of homelessness, dance and pull at each other in desperate need of security; oppositely, three explorers bounce through space in farcical play in search of adventure, until their naive stamina dissolves and they are forced to realize their undeniable aimlessness. They are mythic allegories for our human struggle to accept the lonely, wandering fate of our condition. Later in the piece, the omniscient narrator intervenes as one character spirals into fear in her realization of her loneliness, teaching her to find stability within her own equilibrium. In a chilling act, she opens her mind as the entire ensemble moves inside to face the dark fears of her dreams. Each of these characters is modeled from important personal relationships that influenced my solo studio work, and their journeys bring to life the hypotheses I write as I ask questions about making meaning of my own autobiography and memories.

ROOTS of EARTH’s storytelling emphasis in intention-based origination departs from the work of the aforementioned artists, taking on a mythic form. It becomes a unique, genre-synthesizing performance that emphasizes dramatic allegory in a cohesive story about people. In its incredibly specific, idiosyncratic source and presentation, this work rejects cultural boundaries and harnesses the sincere voice of the individual on the global stage. This genre, unlike others, is entirely inclusive as the allegories of the human experience are universal, crossing all forms of cultural boundaries.


Britt Banaszynski


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