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Reviewed by:
  • Autobiography and Performance
  • Season M. Ellison
Autobiography and Performance. By Dierdre Heddon. Theatre and Performance Practices Series. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008; pp. xi + 218. $90.95 cloth, $28.95 paper.

In Autobiography and Performance, Dierdre Heddon offers a highly selective overview and critique of autobiographical performance in the United States and the United Kingdom. She notes the lack of scholarship dedicated to autobiographical performance and suggests that her book will help fill this gap by introducing what she considers to be "the key concerns implicated in performances that take personal material as their primary source" (12)—namely, identity, testimony, place, and ethics. In each chapter, she provides an overview of one of these concerns, a critical reading of two or three [End Page 344] performance artists' work, and follows up with a complication of her original concern. She aptly critiques and theorizes both within and across each chapter, illustrating that in any combination each of these topics is interrelated. Before embarking on her analyses, Heddon first defines "autobiographical performance [as] a broad term which encompasses examples of solo autobiographical work, community and applied drama, oral narrative and oral history performance, verbatim drama, documentary drama, testimonial performance, performance art and instances of site-specific and time based practice" (11). This sweeping definition is seemingly too grand to tackle in such a short book; however, Heddon's examples are carefully chosen and her discussion of them concise.

In chapters 1 and 2 respectively, Heddon focuses on the concerns of identity and testimony. She begins her discussion of identity with the autobiographical work of 1970s feminists and writes that "the translation of the personal—or autobiographical—material into live performance was inarguably tied to consciousness-raising activities which focused analysis specifically on women's experiences (under the banner of the 'personal is political')" (21). Heddon articulates a number of well-known tensions surrounding these early feminist works and proposes that "the assumed authenticity that attaches to experience serves to equate it with 'authority' and personal experience can easily become an unwitting but persuasive guarantor of 'truth'" (26). This point is particularly important, as Heddon refutes the equation "autobiography equals truth" throughout the remainder of her book. Her refutation relies on the principle that for autobiography to equal truth, an authentic or essential self must actually exist; instead, she argues that "there is always more than one self to contend with" (27). Searching for a way to deal with concerns of truth and identity, Heddon turns her attention to autobiographical performances "that work between identity and its construction" (31, emphasis in original). The performers she discusses are Bobby Baker, Tim Miller, Joey Hateley, and the Glasgow-based theatre company MCT. In chapter 2, Heddon examines testimonial performances "that bear witness to specific historically located traumatic events, but traumas that necessarily transcend their 'histories'" (60). She includes Kim Ima's The Interlude, Robbie McCauley's Sally's Rape, and Lisa Kron's 2.5 Minute Ride as representative of testimonial performance.

Chapter 3, "Place: The Place of the Self," is particularly intriguing. Here, Heddon proposes the term "autotopography," which she defines as "writing place through self (and simultaneously writing self through place). Autotopography, like autobiography, is a creative act of seeing, interpretation and invention" (91). Furthermore, autotopography foregrounds the subjectivity and multiplicity inherent but often undisclosed when theorizing "place" (90—91). Each of the performances she critiques foregrounds the profound influence place has on the performer's identity and vice versa; Heddon argues that "conceiving of place as 'performed' and made is politically important" (111). To further flesh out this point, she critiques two different performances—one by Bobby Baker and one by the Curious Theatre Company—illustrating how conceptions of home vary dramatically in these performances, because the meaning of "home" is contingent on both the performers' and audiences' own experience (117). As opposed to the warm and fuzzy feeling often stereotypically associated with "home," these performers instead offer a narrative rife with conflict and disease.

In chapter 4, Heddon discusses the ethical considerations involved in authoring and performing autobiographical material. Noting that while autobiographical performance is about one's self, "the self exists in relationships with others," and therefore the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-332X
Print ISSN
0192-2882
Pages
pp. 344-346
Launched on MUSE
2009-10-15
Open Access
No
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