Research-based theatre and a/r/tography: Exploring arts-based educational research methodologies

George Belliveau

To Cite this Article

APA : Belliveau, G. (2015). Research-based theatre and a/r/tography:  Exploring arts-based educational research methodologies. p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e , 2 (1-2). http://p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e.org/?p=1491

Chicago : Belliveau, George. “Research-based theatre and a/r/tography:  Exploring arts-based educational research methodologies.” p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e 2, no. 1-2 (Spring-Fall 2015). http://p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e.org/?p=1491

MLA : Belliveau, George. “Research-based theatre and a/r/tography:  Exploring arts-based educational research methodologies.” p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e 2.1-2 (2015). http://p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e.org/?p=1491


This paper provides insights shared at IDEA-Paris 2013 whereI presented and performed the keynote address: Theatre and A/r/tography: Engaging with arts-based methodologies.Within this paper I highlight key ideas from the plenary presentation bycritically exploring ways in which a/r/tography and research-based theatre havebecome dynamic methodological approaches for educational research. I discussthe academic and artistic intersections that these complimentary methodologicalapproaches offer in relation to current literature in the field and recentexamples from artist/scholars. As part of the keynote I invited four emergingresearchers to present some of their performative and scholarly doctoral work: MindyCarter, McGill University, Canada; Esther Fitzpatrick, University of Auckland,New Zealand; Graham W. Lea, University of British Columbia, Canada; and RichardSallis, Melbourne University, Australia. Examples from their creative andscholarly research are represented in this article. Their work illustrates effective ways ofintegrating a/r/tography and research-based theatre as methodologicalapproaches to educational research.


Research-based theatre, A/r/tography, art-based methodologies, performed research, education.


At IDEA-Paris 2013 I was invited to present and perform the keynote address: Theatre and A/r/tography: Engaging with arts-based methodologies [1]. This paper examines key ideas from the plenary presentation by critically exploring ways in which a/r/tography and research-based theatre have become dynamic methodological approaches for educational research. The academic and artistic intersections that these complementary methodological approaches offer are discussed in relation to current literature in the field and recent examples from artist/scholars. As part of the keynote I invited four emerging researchers to present some of their performative and scholarly doctoral work: Mindy Carter, McGill University, Canada; Esther Fitzpatrick, University of Auckland, New Zealand; Graham W. Lea, University of British Columbia, Canada; and Richard Sallis, Melbourne University, Australia. [2] Examples from their creative and scholarly research are represented in this article. Their work illustrates effective ways of integrating a/r/tography and research-based theatre as methodological approaches to educational research.

To lead the audience inside these performed-based approaches to research, I began the Paris keynote with the following a/r/tographic monologue:

[Behind the podium, assuming a scholarly stance, though approaching the work in a story-telling manner.] [3]

Two years ago, while doing a theatre-based presentation, I experienced a moment, and to use Laurel Richardson’s term, a moment of crystallization. I was sharing a performed piece of research about Shakespeare in the elementary classroom in Auckland, New Zealand. [Image of George performing on stage in NZ with a co-actor.] In this moment on stage, multiple worlds came together. In particular, my artist and researcher worlds. I was in the moment as actor and academic. Did the 100 or so audience members notice this moment? Care? Perhaps. I knew. My competing worlds of artist and researcher crystallized in that moment on stage.


Figure 1. Performing research in Auckland, NZ. (Photo by P. O’Connor)

[Moving away from the podium to address the audience more intimately.]

A number of thinkers and practitioners have tackled the question of the space between artist and researcher, where the aesthetic and the academic collide.

Is the artist merely speaking or the researcher performing?

I’m interested in this space – this shift, overlap, the merging of researcher and performer.

[Shifting to a more calculated, controlled academic role with distinct voice and gestures.]

In my academic, researcher role I strive for clarity. I aim to persuade through argument, provide evidence and support. I anchor my work in ongoing debates, theories, methodologies, ideally contributing new knowledge.

[Shifting to an artist role with freer voice and gestures and lightness in movement.]

When performing I layer, complicate, I get partially lost, in the world of the drama. I’m in the moment, prepared spontaneity. Hamlet-like I ponder, contemplate, debate with myself. I raise the stakes, make the problem colossal yet minute, worldly yet personal. I’m here and there.

My academic side troubles, makes stabs, seeks truth, considers the literature, the field. I strive to say something new.

I strive to be physically and emotionally present, fully alive, awake. To dream.

I observe, analyze, synthesize. I study the trees and seek to organize them in some coherent or artful forest.

I walk in the forest. I’m part of the forest, touch the trees, smell nature, breathe in the colours.

[Role of academic and artist begin to gradually blur through voice and body.]

I climb the trees for a better view, dwell in the forest. Amidst the doing I begin to paint meanings. Sketches, blotches in time.

Time and space are transformed, intensified. I’m here and there.

There, in the myriads of strands, I capture, no, I create meaning through prose.

And poetry. It’s this and that.

I write. I re-write.

I create. I re-create.

I generate.

I present.

[At this stage the academic and artist have become one.]

I perform.

[Returning to voice of story-teller from the beginning of monologue.]

I’m in Auckland, New Zealand performing. In the moment. I look to the audience, my co-performers. I am present, fully awake. Breathing the research, living the art.

[Completely breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience in the present.]

I’m in Paris, looking to you, my audience, my colleagues … performing research.

Largely due to the expectations of peer-reviewed publications, researchers exploring artistic/academic theatre education projects primarily present their research at conferences and in writing using a scholarly format and approach. [4] This is not to suggest that scholarly presentations and articles lack creativity or engagement, far from it. Instead, I am signalling the infrequent usage of the art form of theatre within educational research conference presentations and writing outlets. Typically, the artistic endeavor is described and analyzed. Much more rarely do listeners and/or readers experience the visceral and ephemeral nature of theatre within scholarly contexts. This paper deliberately integrates artistic examples to provide insights as to what it means to engage in artistic/academic methodologies such as a/r/tography and research-based theatre.

Literature and background

The arts have been incorporated to inform education scholarship since at least Dewey (1934) and Langer (1957). Both these researchers wrote about the importance of integrating the arts within pedagogical and research settings, and to a certain extent they stimulated the outburst of arts-based educational research that has emerged over the last few decades. Led by scholars such as Barone & Eisner (1997), Irwin (2004), Knowles & Cole (2008), Saldana (2005), among others, a significant amount of scholarly attention about integrating the arts to conduct, generate and disseminate research has surfaced. Embedded within this influx of largely arts-based education scholarship is a commitment from artist/scholars to work with methodologies that attend to both the scholarly and artistic (Leggo, 2011; Gouzouasis, 2011; Prendergast & Belliveau, 2012). A push towards engaging with the art form during the research process, as well as artistically disseminating the work is becoming more prevalent. The excerpt that follows has two artist/researchers in dialogue about what constitutes research-based theatre:

George: … This script is an edited version – the essence of what we have developed over a few months of dialoguing, e-mailing, and phone conversations. […]

Vince: In our current dialogue, our intention is not to entertain necessarily, but rather to inform and share with our audience aspects of dramatizing data. Whereas in a play geared towards performance we would likely include theatrical elements such as rising tensions and climax. Generally, theatre scripts are blueprints for performance, meant to be lifted from the page. So, can our current engagement be called a play?

George: […] I think the distinction can be best understood in terms of engagement and an embodied experience. A play requires engaging an audience on various levels. Words alone do not fully achieve this. And there are other dramatic characteristics to consider. For instance, our conversation lacks conflict – the dialogue is likely too cooperative to become a play.

Vince: I agree that this is more of a carefully constructed transcribed conversation, which would arguably fail to engage a theatre audience. However, don’t you think that’s a little narrow of a spectrum of what defines a play?

George: I see your intent here … trying to create a little tension, are you?

Vince: Perhaps! (Belliveau & White, 2010: 35)

This brief exchange from a published article on drama and social justice illustrates analyzed data presented in a theatre format. Although not meant for performance, the piece encourages artist/researchers to consider dynamic ways to share their scholarly work, engaging in arts-based representations. Attention to artistic modes of presenting research has not only become more common at scholarly conferences and in the publication of scholarly books and journals, but it is also becoming more prevalent within funded research projects and in the work of MA and PhD graduate theses (Sinner et al., 2006) [5].

Although this paper focuses on educational research, the integration of the arts as a mode of inquiry and research cuts across many disciplines such as health research, sociology, anthropology, architecture, law, business among other disciplines. It is also important to recognize that the term arts-based research extends well beyond the approaches and traditions discussed in this article: poetic inquiry; narrative inquiry; performative inquiry; life writing; image-based research; music-based research; research-informed theatre; ethnotheatre; to name a few, represent the growing number of arts-based research approaches available. These various arts-based research approaches reflect particular perspectives as to what is researched (ontological), how knowledge is constructed (epistemological) along with ethical and philosophical considerations (Sinner, 2008). The recent scholarship by eminent researchers surrounding arts-based approaches has been critical in bridging perceived disconnects between qualitative and quantitative traditions of educational research, challenging assumptions held by some scholars that the arts do not constitute rigorous areas of inquiry (Sullivan, 2005). This paper attends to two particular approaches within the vast and growing scholarship on arts-based research. These complementary methodologies – a/r/tography and research-based theatre – will be respectively defined and explored, rather than compared, through the use of specific research projects within the field of education.


A/r/tography is best described as a methodology that emphasizes the process through which scholars draw upon their artist, researcher, and teacher identities to artistically engage in research and question their understandings (Lea et al., 2011). Springgay, Irwin, and Kind (2005) suggest that a/r/tography is not a “formulaic-based methodology. Rather, it is a fluid orientation creating its rigor through continuous reflexivity and analysis” (903).


Figure 2. A/r/tography poem. (Winters et al. 2009: 8)

Within theatre-based projects, a/r/tography has provided a methodological approach for artist/researchers to critically reflect on their artistic practice and pedagogy while engaged in educational research (Beare & Belliveau 2008; Carter et al. 2011; Lea et al. 2011; Winters et al. 2009). Mindy Carter is a trained theatre artist, and her use of a/r/tography as methodology exemplifies a creative way to balance the process and findings of her research. In her doctoral thesis [6] (Carter 2012), she includes a/r/tographic interludes that are woven between her core chapters. The interludes become an inner story, used as an alternative and creative way to share and expand insights from the outer story (her chapters). The brief excerpt below illustrates the meta-voices she incorporates to engage the reader with her research:

Teacher: You know, it seems like so many theatre artists have experienced marginalization. I mean, think of Augusto Boal, the Brazilian playwright, theorizer and director who was exiled for his work…really what’s worse: Exile or being institutionalized like Artaud? You have to ask if what you are doing is really worth it in cases like these…

A/r/tographer: But just think of what the struggles of people like Boal and Artaud have meant for us.

Researcher: You’re right. Artaud’s work has really informed our thinking during the process of writing this dissertation and putting together this main research study. We may be looking at ideas purely theoretically and we don’t want to use them as they are for an educational context, but we can take threads from his ideas and work with them. Theatre directors and theorists have definitely found value in turning to Artaud in their work…

A/r/tographer: I guess we should just jump right in then. (Carter, 2012:113)

Carter uses playwriting to explore the tensions between what it means to her to be an artist, researcher and teacher engaged in doctoral research. Her doctoral thesis consists of a series of case studies about the lived experience of theatre artists transitioning into teaching. To bridge and support the case studies with theoretical underpinnings and scholarly literature, she engages in a/r/tographical writing. Playwriting is integrated to disseminate her findings, as seen above, but it was also applied during the research to generate data, as she invited her research participants to create monologues that would artistically represent their understanding of their transition from artist to teacher. A section of Ardele’s [7] reflective monologue a/r/tographically shows the in-between space of her teacher and artist identities:

The Math Lesson

I am standing in a tiny portable, in front of 30 grades 5 and 6 students. This is the first week of my second practicum. My palms are sweaty…my mouth is dry. Why am I nervous? This is my first math lesson…the dreaded math lesson. My greatest fear in becoming a teacher is about to be realized. I’ve never really liked math! I’m an artistic person, a trained actor. Math stressed me out. Still stresses me out! I could never get the answer fast enough. I didn’t see anything creative about math.

As an actor, I am used to standing up and talking in front of people. But this is somehow different. There is no script here. What if some whippersnapper from the back asks me a question I can’t answer? That kid Michael over there, he’s really bright in mathematics. I know he’s going to stump me with something.

Okay get it together. You know this unit. You’ve reviewed it and let’s face it you know what you’re talking about.

So I begin….. (Carter, 2012: 69)

The use of theatre conventions (monologues, dialogues) embedded within Carter’s research writing became essential and critical to better understand and capture the nuances of what it meant to be transitioning from artist to teacher, and back again. A/r/tography became an approach that embraced the simultaneity, multiplicity and complexity of her participant’s lived experiences and evolving identities. Research and art-making within a/r/tography are inseparable, as they inform one another, interconnect and often overlap. As illustrated in Carter’s work, artist/researchers reflect on tensions during the process of art-making and research, honouring and critically writing about these moments as they emerge.

For Esther Fitzpatrick a/r/tography provides a methodology to weave through the complex data she has generated about what it means to be a Pākehā [8] educator in New Zealand. Using poetry and fictional theatre dialogue as analytical approaches in her doctoral work (in progress), she has been able to critically engage with questions about ethical choices and allow the reader inside her research quest. The excerpt that follows shares a fictional dialogue where Esther reflects on her readings then integrates her understandings using a theatre-based form:

[It is evening. Esther is sitting on a deck mulling over what she has read and written that day when John Steinbeck comes and sits beside her. He relaxes back into the chair, crosses his legs, and lights a cigarette. They stare out at the ocean and begin talking, slowly, dreamily.]

ESTHER: I love your poem about the fireflies. I always wanted to be that teacher. To listen to the stories those children and others brought to me ‘cupped and sheltered in their hands like captured fireflies’. Now I am involved in a research project that involves listening to and gathering stories – about what it means to be Pākehā educator.

JOHN: It was written for you. It was written for all teachers, educators, and researchers, who are involved in the business of listening and interpreting the stories of others. I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit. [9] (Fitzpatrick, in press)

The scripting allows her to go back and forth between her artist and teacher identities, and all the while engaging her research identity in a performative, critical, and reflexive way (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011; Fels & Belliveau, 2008). Fictionalizing the script is a way to seek meaning, allowing the complexity of her thinking process to be apparent. It becomes an artistic approach to help connect the reader to her experience in hopes of generating an emotional and intellectual response (Eisner, 1997; Spry, 2011).

In both examples Carter and Fitzpatrick use theatre-based approaches to not only represent aspects of their research, but also to generate further questions, deepening the inquiry. A/r/tographic inquiry recognizes and embraces the process, and consciously yearns to investigate the actual doing within the art-making. The artistry in a/r/tography is not about completing a static aesthetic piece of art, framing it to appreciate from afar. Or, in the case of theatre, creating a full production with set, props and costumes, and a complete script. Quite the opposite, a/r/tography as a methodology consists of folding back the layers, asking new questions, and generating an understanding of what it means to dwell in the present, and be comfortable in the in-between.

Time and space are transformed, intensified. I’m here and there.

[…] It’s this and that. [Opening monologue]

Research-based theatre

In essence, research-based theatre (Belliveau & Lea, 2011) can be defined as a methodology that theatricalizes research data. The concept of dramatizing research data has been variously named: verbatim theatre (Anderson & Wilkinson, 2007), performance ethnography (Denzin, 2003), performed research (Ackroyd & O’Toole, 2010), documentary theatre (Dawson, 1999), performative inquiry (Fels & Belliveau, 2008), research-informed theatre (Goldstein, 2012), ethnotheatre/ethnodrama (Saldaña, 2011), to name a few. These various research-based theatre approaches have individual nuances and intentions, yet all share a potential to expand understandings, engage audiences, and provoke new learning experiences through the dramatization and performing of research (Prendergast & Belliveau, 2012).

To address the various forms of research-based theatre, Beck, Belliveau, Lea & Wager (2011) developed a two-dimensional spectrum, situating theatre-based research projects along an artistic and research continua. The spectrum describes specific examples of research-based theatre to help readers/viewers situate the variety of possibilities within this artistic-research approach. For his part, Saldaña (2011) provides strategies as to how researchers can work with artists to develop research-based theatre pieces that honor the research as well as provide an aesthetic experience. He also offers a series of diverse examples of research-based plays in an anthology (Saldaña, 2005). Discussions on how playwriting (MacKenzie & Belliveau, 2011) and play-building (Norris, 2009) are forms of qualitative analysis have been theorized, and these support the notion that theatre can be used critically and effectively during the collection, analysis and dissemination phases of research. This growing critical body of literature on research-based theatre provides researchers with insights on the development, conditions and receptions of this methodological approach. Similar to a/r/tography, engaging in research-based theatre consists of an art-making process that critically and creatively generates meaning through theatre. Yet, what differs is that research-based theatre entails a commitment to sharing a cumulative aesthetic piece of theatre. The theatre piece might be created by professionals or individuals new to theatre, improvised or fully scripted, but in principle a clear intent to present the work for a private or public audience is part of the methodology.

In his doctoral dissertation about his, and his mother’s, teaching experience in Kenya, Graham Lea utilizes research-based theatre as his primary methodology (2013). His research attends to the intricacies and potential of the art form, in that he pays close attention to the elements of theatre in the researching and scripting of the work. Within his research-based play, Homa Bay Memories, he makes use of specific settings, props, lighting, sound, blocking, among other theatrical conventions to situate his characters (based on real people from his research) within the theatre space. While generating dialogue and integrating elements of theatre in the development of his research playscript, Lea continually revisited the data to insure that he honored the fieldwork and participants. The data in his case is comprised of letters, journal entries, photographs and interviews, which were written with no initial intent of being translated for the purposes of a theatre representation. It was only during the analysis phase that Lea conceptualized how theatre making might open up new insights and further questions to his narrative research work. The following monologue excerpt is part of his full-length play, Homa Bay Memories, which forms the central chapter of his doctoral dissertation:


[Lights crossfade to CS. JUNE exits. GRAHAM enters from SR and looks at the food]


When they tell you, “Don’t eat the raw vegetables,” don’t eat the raw vegetables.

[Picks up plate] Fortunately, cooked food was fine. In fact, it was more than fine; [inhales] it was great.

During my practicum, I home-stayed with a retired school headmistress, Mamma Stef, and her aging mother-in-law.

[GRAHAM moves a chair to start creating the room, the mantle with the TV is SR]

As mzungus, foreigners, we were a draw. Neighbours often came to visit in the living and dining room of their clay brick house where we sat on a random assortment of furniture worn with age and heavy use and loosely covered by a mismatch of old blankets and sheets. The cracked yellow paint on the walls was broken up by a few pictures and a large mantle on which sat a small black and white TV that, might get some reception, if we were lucky.

In the next room was the kitchen. [GRAHAM points to certain areas SL but does not cross centre]

A gas stove sat cold by a roaring open fire. Whirring in the corner was a refrigerator, THE refrigerator. We had been told about this, a rare find. Rarer still, this one worked! Inside it was filled to brimming with fresh fruit and vegetables. None of which we could eat until well cooked.

That was the job of Paula, a local woman hired as a housekeeper while we were there. The wonders she could do in that kitchen where I wouldn’t have been able to fry an egg.

Despite her efforts in the kitchen, Paula didn’t eat with us. But, David did. He was a shamba-boy, a farm hand, hired by our host to look after her sprawling seven-acre farm.

[GRAHAM sits and picks up the plate smells]

The first meal, like all that succeeded it, consisted of a variety of steaming hot Kenyan dishes: Githeri, Ugali, Mukimo, Sukuma Wiki…

[GRAHAM puts plate down and sinks into the chair]

David, I thought tired after a long day in the field, ate quickly and sank into one of the well-worn chairs.

[GRAHAM sits up straight]

Impulsively, wanting to be helpful, I started to clear the dishes. [Picks up plate and tries to stand]

But Paula quickly came and whisked everything away. [Returns plate CS and sits neutrally] It was clear I was not to go into the kitchen.

Another student-teacher, Wendy also had challenges adjusting to life in Kenya, particularly the restrictions on her diet. In North America, she ate raw salad almost exclusively. While she tried to heed the suggested dietary advice, eventually, her bodies’ desire to return to her normal diet became too much … she had an impulse she could not resist.   [Picks up plate and begin to eat]

When they tell you, “Don’t eat the raw vegetables,” don’t eat the raw vegetables. [Sets plate down CS, becoming visibly ill]

She couldn’t take it.

[Returns to sitting neutrally]

Back in the well-worn living room, I admit, it was tempting to sit back with David and let someone else do the dirty work. But I couldn’t.   (Lea, 2013: 110-12)

In this example Lea artistically represents some of his discoveries about living and teaching in Kenya. Based on his journal field notes, photos and correspondences with classmates he takes the reader (and viewer) inside his lived experience during a teaching practicum in rural Kenya. He carefully analyzes and selects resonating moments from his data, then purposefully translates them for a theatrical sharing. His data analysis thus became a critical part of the playwriting process, teasing out key moments from the research that would form the arc of his play. The next excerpt shows how Lea makes us of theatrical space and language to try and make sense of the cultural interactions he experienced. He also includes projected images (figure 3), specific stage blocking and lighting suggestions to create an ambiance and mood that reflects the character’s (his) lived experience.


Figure 3. Kenyan landscape. (Photo by G.W. Lea)



How could I say no? An invitation to tea with a co-worker at his home. The views as we walked along the clay road to his parents’ house were stunning. [An image of Kenyan landscape around Kihuti is projected on the cyc.] Hills and valleys extended seemingly forever blending into haze and sky.

I had to bend down to enter the small hut where Hunter lived with his parents. Inside I sat on a small wooden chair at a small wooden table. The only light came in through the crack in the door and a small window.

Out of the next room came his mother with tea and a tray piled high with beautiful, golden, mangos so fresh and ripe, with each bite they melted into an explosion of tastes and juices. His mother and I shared space and time, we shared food and tea but not language. We couldn’t talk but we could communicate.

The sun sets faster near the equator. [The projection screen may start to show stars]

We walked back in sudden darkness. No street lights, no cars driving by, just pinpricks of light dotting the night sky. And people. Everywhere. The clay roads were packed. People moving in all directions. Lost. Nervous.

[An OLD MAN enters from SL and crosses toward GRAHAM. They meet in the CS area] From the distance an old man walks toward me. I am not sure. Do I make eye contact? Do I acknowledge him? Just hope he walks by.


Be careful, you’re so white you glow in the dark. [OLD MAN continues on SR to exit]


[Smiles and laughs]

You know what, I do… [Lights crossfade to SL, GRAHAM crosses US and stands in front of the cyc] (Lea, 2013: 114-16)

In Lea’s case, and in Richard Sallis’ in the next example, a single playwright scripted the research-based play. However, research-based theatre can, and frequently does, involve more than one playwright. Collective playwriting is often used when research participants in conjunction with the research team generate characters (Belliveau, 2006; Norris, 2009) and work through an improvisation process to generate a research-based play (Belliveau, 2007; Bird et al., 2010). In some of his earlier research [10], Lea (2010; 2012) offers three specific models for research-based theatre. These flexible models help open up and clarify various playwriting approaches artists and researchers might consider when engaging with this arts-based methodology.

Richard Sallis developed the research-based play It’s A Play for Us based on his ethnographic study about how boys participate in drama within a secondary school setting in Melbourne, Australia. The various iterations of this research-based play formed a significant part of his thinking and critical commentaries within his doctoral dissertation [11] (Sallis, 2010). The work was shared in a reader’s theatre format with research participants interpreting the roles. In It’s A Play for Us, voices of the student participants and two teachers within the study were centrally featured. However, in revisiting the data post-dissertation, Sallis wanted to look more closely at the student teacher, Colin [12], who was present during the original ethnographic study yet only featured in a minimal way in the initial research-based play. In this return to the data, Sallis knew from the outset that he would interpret Colin in the performing of the role, as such he was consciously aware how this may influence and shape the writing. In particular, he knew he would develop the work into a monologue that could be played by a middle-aged male.

[COLIN, mid-twenties, directly to audience, coffee mug in hand. He is the staffroom and talks to the audience as if they are a confidant]. Well, I’m about half way through my teaching placement at this school and it’s really opened my eyes to what boys are capable of if you give them the right learning environment. […]

I have to admit, I find Ruth and Sarah, the regular drama teachers to be intimidating really. They are really good at what they do. I think the thing that is most intimating is that they are so relaxed with the students. It’s like, “yeah, we’ve seen it all before” type of thing. I think I must look so not-relaxed compared to them. They’re really supportive towards me but I can’t help feeling I’m being judged. […]

[Cut to COLIN teaching one of Sarah’s Year Seven Drama classes. NB: Sarah and Richard are observing the class].

[claps hands] Right year seven, let’s get started. The boys sitting on the stage, come down here please.

Your “private space”? Yeah, well you can go back and be private there later.

Kate, Kim, Josie. Ladies, quiet please.

[To the audience and himself] I cannot believe I just called them “ladies”. Why did I do that? Sarah will have taken note of that for sure. I mean, where did that come from? Sometimes I open my mouth and … like I never say things like “Ladies quiet please”. But like, if I go and say to Sarah, that is so not me, I never say ‘Ladies, quiet please’ she’ll just think I’m making excuses. [Pause]. I think it’s best to just leave it. I won’t bring it up. I’ll just see if she mentions it and then I guess I’ll have to deal with it. [Pause].

I’m probably worrying unnecessarily but like Richard’s doing this project on gender in drama and he’s observing me too and here I am saying something like “Ladies quiet please”. And the other day, when I said to Richard “I’m a feminist”, like he’s probably thinking “yeah right, he calls the students “ladies” ‘ like I crawled out of the ark. [Pause]. (Sallis, 2013)

To generate the monologue Sallis returned to the original interviews, journals and audio-taped accounts from his data. He selected some of the verbatim data for the monologue, however, the essence or spirit of what took place during the research complimented the verbatim data from the research. What takes place in Colin’s head, his inner thoughts, are not necessarily words or thoughts expressed by him during the research. Instead, these inner thoughts are an essence of what took place (Belliveau & Beare, 2008), represented through the use of a soliloquy, a theatre technique where a character reveals his or her inner thoughts. [13] As shown above, Colin is in conversation with himself, debating with an inner voice, actively trying to make meaning within the situation. Sallis’ careful revisiting of the data provided him with some text, but he also discovered places where verbatim data could only reveal part of the story. His field observations and researcher hunches offered other insights that were now used to embody and offer other voices for Colin.

In addition, the use of theatre where time and space can be collapsed or expanded allows Sallis to present various moments within Colin’s experience in a condensed amount of time. The monologue continues with an activity within the classroom where Colin shares a pedagogical moment, filled with outer and inner dialogue and dilemmas. Using specific, evocative and performative theatre dialogue (Mackenzie & Belliveau, 2011), Sallis recreates a scene with many characters (students) for us to imagine, in fact an entire classroom seems to be present within the monologue. He also finds the pathos and humour to engage the audience, yet remains truthful to the actual research context and findings.

COLIN [picks up where he left off with the class]: Okay, now I want you to walk around the room and when I say “stop” I want you to greet whoever is nearest to you, as friends would do.

[NB: Most of the students shift where they are standing so they are near to a student of the same gender]. Hey, mix it up a bit, not just boys with boys and girls with girls. [Pause]. And … stop! Now, what did you see? “Lot’s of hugs.” Good observation Alan. [Pause].

[Hesitantly] Right. So, does anyone else agree with Thomas that they might be gay? Thomas, hugging can be homosexual, heterosexual, whatever. [Pause].

Now let’s do it again but this time when you pair up, you’re enemies. So, running around the room. [He shouts over them] Be careful not to bump into anyone! [Pause].

Come on Thomas, are you going to run for us? [Pause]. It’s more fun if you run. Imagine you’re going for a touchdown. [Pause]. That’s a solid effort Thomas. Well done, mate.

And … stop. [The students perform their greeting].

Boys, over there by the stage; next time try doing it without violence involved. [Pause]. Okay now the next time I say ‘stop’ I want you to greet each other as if you are penguins.

[To the audience] Where did that idea come from?! [Pause].

[To the students]. You know, like they waddle. Don’t they?

[To the audience] I have absolutely no idea how this is going to turn out.

[Back to the students] Good waddling Josie and Kim. [Pause]. A flying penguin, Alan? Okay. [Pause]. Thomas? Any chance we can we get a waddle out of you? (Sallis, 2013)

In both Sallis and Lea’s research-based theatre projects key considerations and deliberate choices were made when conceptualizing and then scripting the work. A responsibility to the research participants and context being explored is their first priority (Saldana 2011). Honoring the research precedes the artistic interpretation (Mienczakowski, 2001), otherwise you are no longer engaging within a research-based theatre approach that you set out to explore. Both Sallis and Lea refrain from moving too far away from the actual research and data findings. By the same token, they are also keenly aware that to move the work towards research-based theatre, a balance between the research and art must take place (Belliveau & White, 2010). In both cases, they compliment verbatim dialogue with fictionalized text that represents the spirit of what occurred within the research context. In addition, their deliberate and detailed use of imagery and characterization invites an aesthetic and emotional response to their research-based work.

Research-based theatre’s ultimate strength is when art and research inform one another, working in tandem, neither taking precedence over the other. Generating inner dialogues with characters in moments of crisis or indecision presents the human condition more vividly. Resisting the temptation to resolve or pinpoint the issue is often what makes theatre more inviting for audience members, as they too can become part of the conversation, imagining themselves in the situation. Ideas generated from the data should include emotions, inviting the audience to think and feel, experiencing the research on multiple levels. The economy of words, theatre dialogue and embodied representations generate the conditions and potential for a more layered understanding and experience of the research shared.


A/r/tography and research-based theatre represent but two arts-based methodologies that invite artist/researchers to generate and disseminate their understandings using creative and critical approaches. Each illustrates the potential for scholars to bring their research to life, through an inquiry process that includes both artful as well as academic ways of knowing. These two methodologies continue to evolve, yet both are situated within theories of knowing that anchor and inform the work, i.e., dialogism (Bakhtin, 1986); rhizomatic (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987); complexity (Davis & Sumara, 2009); narrative (Leggo, 2011); acting (Stanislavski, 1936), to name a few. The four emerging scholars whose work is highlighted in this paper respectively ground their work in current literature and debates, but more importantly they also push the boundaries, advancing arts-based educational research by performing their work. The Paris plenary aimed to further examine what it means to engage in arts-based research in theatre education, and as importantly what can be learned when we perform our research. This paper offers insights into a/r/tography and research-based theatre as methodological approaches, and attempts to describe and share some of the performative moments from the plenary. In sharing the research through an academic/artistic approach, I aim to stimulate further dialogue, reveal new insights, and keep the research present and ongoing.

George: So our engaging in this dialogue provides another opportunity to reflect on and recognize specific choices you made in writing [the research-based play] Naming the Shadows. [14] Yet, none of this could have happened, you would agree, without staging the production.

Donnard: Performing the art, in this case theatre, informs practice …

George: … and theory …

Donnard: … and vice versa. Theatre needs to be performed. We need the audience.

George: Interesting that a number of research-based plays, in fact most of them, are never fully performed (or published). A stage reading or reader’s theatre sharing is most typical, and these are generally a first or second draft.

Donnard: Playwriting is often about re-writing after a live reading or workshop, or at least after hearing how it plays and sounds with actors. In the workshopping and performing, layers and nuances are teased out, making their way in the re-writing. (Mackenzie & Belliveau, 2012: 15)


[1] http://www.idea-paris-2013.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=82&Itemid=639&lang=en

[2] A special thank you to the four scholars for their collaboration and contributions during the plenary and feedback in the writing of this article.

[3] Stage actions and directions are suggested in italics in the theatre-based examples within the paper.

[4] A tradition within theatre and drama education conference gatherings for a number of decades included a focus on sharing exemplary practice where master classes were offered for participants or available for observation. At these conferences, practitioner/scholars often engaged in creative approaches, frequently using the craft of theatre. However, these presentations, for the most part, did not involve systematic, research-based studies, but rather focused primarily on pedagogy and practice.

[5] This may be more of a reflection of what is happening in Canada and the United States, although interest and scholarship in arts-based educational research is internationally represented. The Social Sciences Research in Humanities Council, Canada’s most prominent federal funding body for arts and humanities, has a funding stream dedicated to artistic-creation.

[6] Carter was the Canadian Association for Teacher Education PhD Dissertation Award Winner in 2013. She also received Honorable mention for the AERA Arts-Based Educational Research PhD Dissertation prize in 2013.

[7] Ardele is a pseudonym to protect the research participant’s identity.

[8] Pākehā are usually understood as the white European partner in New Zealand’s bicultural relationship with Maori – the indigenous people of New Zealand (Bell, 2009).

[9] From Steinbeck’s “Like captured fireflies.” (1955).

[10] Graham Lea’s was awarded the Best MA thesis in the Department of Language and Literacy at the University of British Columbia in 2010.

[11] Sallis’ was the American Association of Theatre Education Distinguished PhD Dissertation award winner for his thesis The drama of boys in 2012.

[12] Colin, along with all other names mentioned in the monologue, are pseudonyms to protect the research participants’ identities.

[13] Hamlet, and many of Shakespeare’s characters often ponder within their soliloquies, inviting the audience inside the dialogic inner struggle.

[14] Naming the Shadows (Mackenzie et al., 2011) is based on research data from elementary students and their teachers engaging with Shakespeare.


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Biography of George Belliveau