As a community-facing project for the Winter 2012 Semester offering of the University of Guelph course ENGL*6691: Pedagogy, Human Rights, Critical Activism: Educating for Social Change, the project, Storytelling to Change the World creates a platform for individuals to express opinions, hopes and fears and to be received into dialogue. The theme of the storytelling event, EAT YOUR WORDS, gathered short, individual food stories and presented them in an intimate face-to-face performance as well as via radio and Internet broadcast. Stories about food served as a medium for exploration of individual and community narratives. This paper is an analysis of this project as a social performance, considering the locus, the evolution of the script and the participation of the community/actors surrounding the project. Embedded with this analysis are personal reflections on my learning journey and my engagement in the dialogue of our individual and communal/community food narratives.
From the outset of our collaborative project, our goal was to coordinate and stage an event involving performance of stories. Having determined the objectives of our project, the theme of the event and format for the narratives, determining where the performance would take place and how it would make space was a key consideration. Space, like food, is a complex and multi-layered system. It is ideologically encoded and reflects and mediates relationships. Lefebvre (1991) suggests that there is no such thing as a neutral space, which echoes Foucault (1980), “A whole history remains to be written of spaces — which would at the same time be the history of powers” (149). As with any public-facing performance, this project generally, and the event specifically, transforms the city into performative space. The physical and locational characteristics (or what Carlson refers to as ‘urban semiotics’) of a performance are key to framing the event, shaping dialogue and creating meaning (2). After an evaluation of potential venues, the Walker Building surfaced as an ideal location. For our project, the Walker Building met the established criteria; within budget, downtown, available and accessible. Built in 1858, the Walker Building is Guelph’s oldest industrial building, originally operating as a granary (Couling 6). Appropriate to our theme, this space has played a significant role in the stories of food in our community.