Center for Community Engagement

Scripts and Scores: the Engagement of Performance

It’s a Saturday afternoon, and a group of students have collected in a Webster stairwell to review the stages of their final performance – or at least the performance they think they’ll probably be giving.  There may be some changes coming, as a student explains to me.  “We were supposed to perform outside, but because of the rain there’s some debate as to whether or not that’s going to happen,” she says.  “So instead we’re going to perform in the library and Val, and at five-thirty we’ll come back here.”

Such is the nature of Professor Wendy Woodson’s Theater and Dance class “Scripts and Scores”: always fluid, always responsive.  By this point in the semester the students seem quite accustomed to changing their plans to suit the environment.  After a discussion of the semester with Woodson, it only takes a brief conversation to plan their performance for the afternoon, as the students suggest compositions – and adaptable elements of compositions – to fit into the structure that today has given them.

The idea of community-based learning is a fairly recent innovation, but Woodson has been teaching “Scripts and Scores” for more than twenty years.  One of Amherst’s growing number of community-based learning classes, the course challenges students to think actively about their environment, constantly imagining ways to engage creatively with their surroundings.

Frequently, the composers use their performances as tools to force their sometimes unwitting audiences to pay similar attention.  One student staged a piece in which a corridor of performers greeted passersby with a friendly “Hi, how are you today?” – but could say nothing else.  In his written explanation, the student explained that he had wanted to make clear the awkwardness of saying hello and not receiving one in return.  “We created this abrasive awkwardness that was really interesting,” one student recalls.   Some people even walked around the corridor of students rather than become part of the uncomfortable environment.

Besides engaging with their physical surroundings, students also learn to reach across artistic lines for their creative tools.  Although “Scripts and Scores” is offered by the Theater and Dance department, Woodson describes it as a course in interdisciplinary composition.  Students are asked to compose using the techniques of a range of compositional and artistic communities, from video to music to writing to, of course, dance.  “This is a class clearly a lot about collaboration,” she says.  How can people who have different languages, who are coming from different artistic communities, different levels of experience and exposure – how can they find ways to work together?  We work a lot with creating a sense of ensemble, a sense of compromise.”  

A Theater and Dance community-based learning course might sound surprising to some.  But for Woodson, creativity is always about engagement.  “If you’re trying to open up your own imagination and your access to different possibilities in the environment that you live in, I think that by that very fact you’re a valuable community member,” she says.  “Scripts and Scores,” in many ways, is about testing and redefining the boundaries of those communities: between dance and theater; between audience and performer; and between art and engagement.

Emmy Pierce ’11 is a staff writer for the CCE. She is a third-year student from Berkeley, California.  She is double majoring in Asian Languages and Civilizations, with a concentration in Japanese, and English.  Her interests include writing, examining representations of minorities in popular culture, and cats.  This is her first year as a  CCE staff writer.