Our stories of L.A.: youth constructing counter-narratives through devised performance
Nevels, Megan Anne
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In movies, television, and music, South Central Los Angeles is portrayed as a place made up of gang violence, poverty, and failure. Young people of color every day construct their identities based on the messages they receive and through their own lived experiences. Media perpetuates specific stereotypes that inform people’s understanding of South Central, but youth voices are rarely heard. This thesis explores how autobiographical devising as counter-storytelling can provide a space for young people to disrupt stereotypes. Through playbuilding as a qualitative research method, the author examines how autobiographical devising can be used to build a critical counter-storytelling community among young people, while providing a space to share their stories with each other, with their communities, and with outsiders. The document examines three devising activities as sites for disruption of stereotypes and the possibilities of public performance as a call to action. The study finds that through an interaction with dominant narratives and the consequent sharing of counter-narratives, or the stories from the margins, the youth participants pushed against problematic stereotypes through the simultaneous embodiment and interrogation of particular stereotypes, the sharing of acts of kindness, the creation of frozen and spoken images that aim to place youth perspectives into the dominant narrative, and the staging of their lives and ideas for an audience. The document concludes with a discussion of the future possibilities of the work in research and practice, as well as a discussion of what an applied counter-storytelling theatre model can provide practitioners within the fields of Applied Theatre and Critical Race Theory.