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The DePaul Class That Liberated Me as a Writer September 29, 2011

I suspect all of us could say that there are classes we expected to be life-changing, others we thought of as, well, just classes. But life does throw us curve balls from time to time, and every once in a while we sign up for a class that we think will be just another class that actually turns out to change us from the inside out.

For me, that class was Topics in Performance: Autoethnographic Performance, which I took in the fall of 2010. The instructor of the class was Stephanie Howell. Autoethnography is, essentially, observing society through the lens of one’s personal, subjective, day-to-day existence. For many, this would not be a crisis or a moment of truth. I’m sure there are many that would find this the easiest concept to grasp in the world.

One of the personal issues I’ve had to address as I have retrained in media and performance is that, for one reason or another, I have come to realize I don’t have the full, sun-ripened, larger-than-life ego that many are blessed (or cursed) to have, especially those in the performing arts. This can result in inhibition when you don’t want it, being unable to access your full creativity when you need to, and/or holding back when you should be calling forth. You ask yourself, “Why would anyone care what I think?”

Autoethnographic Performance required me to generate performances based on my personal experiences. I wrote one in rhyme, titled “He Wanted to Look like Nureyev,” in which I told of my desire, in my youth, to look like the legendary Russian dancer. I addressed the audience with alternating images of Nureyev and me projected on a screen behind me. Images that showed a younger me with Nureyev’s shaggy haircut and a collarless shirt open at the neck, my expression dramatically sensitive, and, you know, artistic.

I can’t necessarily say the class gave me an ego, but it certainly convinced me that my life was as valid as anybody else’s, and my experience and point of view were fertile sources of creative raw material. This liberated perspective has not only changed the work I have done since, it has enhanced my personal relationships, and aided me in creating a performance persona. I can write from personal experience without hesitation now.

Is there a similar class in your past, in your experience? Is there a class that made you a different, a better person?


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