- Decolonizing Wikipedia through Advocacy and Activism:The Latina/o Theatre Wikiturgy Project
Latina/o Theatre Scholarship as Activism
In its short history the Latina/o Theatre Commons (LTC) has sought to magnify the visibility of Latina/o performers and promote Latina/o-generated theatre through four main pillars: advocacy, art-making, convening, and scholarship (Herrera 120). The latter of these tenets served as the impetus for a breakout session during LTC's Carnaval of New Latina/o Work in July 2015. During this gathering of theatre academics, the conversation focused on a wide array of strategies and platforms for documenting the history of Latina/o theatre in the United States and the ongoing contributions of present-day artists. Scholars spoke of the need for making artists visible to unknowing academics and theatre-making institutions, while remaining mindful of the ways in which this labor must be made legible to university administrators. At the outset of the organization's formation, LTC partnered with the online theatre platform HowlRound to create a repository of essays, interviews, pedagogical pieces, and reviews called Café Onda. However, projects like this and Trevor Boffone's 50 Playwrights Project largely serve as spaces where the theatrical community converses with one another. Their reach does not extend into the general public.
As one possibility for circulating the contributions at Latina/o theatre artists broadly, Carla Della Gatta, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California's School of Dramatic Arts, spoke of the concept of Wikiturgy, a term coined by dramaturgs Jules Odendahl-James, Russell Dembin, and Catherine María Rodríguez in their online essay "Public Dramaturgy, Wikipedia, and Combatting 'Columbusing'." The essay advocated for a form of public dramaturgy in which interested parties convened in order to create Wikipedia pages for underrepresented artists without articles within the digital encyclopedia. When this concept was evoked at LTC's Carnaval, the participants in the breakout session envisioned the generative possibilities of collective contributions to Wikipedia as a means of disseminating introductory information about Latina/o artists and circulating their work to a wider audience.
Although the momentum for an LTC-sponsored Wikiturgy event ultimately did not come together, I grew intrigued by the possibility of engaging with Wikipedia in my Latina/o theatre course at Tufts University, where I teach a class predominantly populated with students of color majoring in American or Latino studies and who have little-to-no artistic or spectatorial engagement with theatre. Initially, I believed that the project would serve Latina/o theatre-makers by enhancing their visibility on Wikipedia and expanding public knowledge of Latina/o theatre studies. Additionally, I aspired to diversify Wikipedia by creating a platform for students of color to engage in acts of authorship on a site that lacks racial and gender diversity. Finally, I sought to provide my undergraduate students with an educational experience that would enable them to hone their research and synthesis skills while writing about artists whom I could not teach over the course of a semester for an audience wider than me and my teaching assistants. However, as my students embarked on this project they also described relief about escaping the monotony of writing a research paper or [End Page E-1] participating in other traditional forms of academic knowledge production. In doing so they voiced a desire to take account of potential readership beyond the academic institution, referring to their labors as a form of public activism, echoing trends in critical writing pedagogies and addressed through Linda Fernstein and Mary Reda's explorations of student attitudes toward the writing process (176). In this specific instance students were immediately able to see the public impact of their work through access to information about the number of unique visitors to their Wikipedia sites, and by observing the numerous comments and accolades offered on the LTC Facebook page announcing the project's completion.
Yet, in spite of the assignment concluding with encouraging evaluations from student participants and enthusiasm and support from the LTC community, the project did reveal tensions between Wikipedia's aspirations as a space for producing collective knowledge and the editorial limitations of the site's scope as an online...