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Detail Mentor Profile: ANNIE SMITH

The Transformative Learning Foundation


Annie Smith

University of British Columbia, Ph.D. 2007

There are two passions that I have had since my early years – creating community and creating theatre. I first started to connect the two when I worked on a First Nations reservation on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It was while working at Ittatsoo that I began to connect community to place and to the Indigenous belief that the land knows you when you belong. It was also working there that I was introduced to using theatre as a way to bring awareness to community issues such as child abuse and neglect and the attending legacies of the residential school system and the practices of colonialism.

In returning to finishing my university education, I discovered Paolo Freire and Augusto Boal, and explored theatre as a tool for social change. Before going on to my doctorate I was the artistic director of Tricksters’ Theatre, a touring Aboriginal theatre company that toured to schools in isolated communities in British Columbia and involved them fully as participants in our plays. It was during this time that many of the pieces of my life journey started to come together. I returned to university with a burning need to understand what it was that happened between people when they performed together. The evidence I had observed was that changes in their perception of each other led people to be more kindly and inclusive and that there was a palpable sense of belonging to a community where before there had been isolation and suspicion.

It was in my doctoral research that I found tenuous threads that, when woven together, created an elastic fabric that supported my ideas about participation and building community. I drew from many fields to write my dissertation: “Elasticity, Community, and Hope: Understandings from Participatory Theatre Performance” (2006). I styled my field of inquiry as “Participatory Performance and Pedagogy”.

In the years since, I have taught a heavy load of courses at a regional college in northern Alberta and my research languished while the field of spectatorship and performance studies developed. Now I am excited to find that my research contributes to a vital new field.


  • University of Alberta, M.A. 1996
  • University of British Columbia, B.A. 1993


Annie live in 

Grande Prairie, Alberta


SDGI Courses

LC 516 Creating Community in the Classroom through Participatory Learning (3 credits)

This is a practical course for learners who are interested in using drama techniques to build community in their classrooms or groups that they lead. The strategy is to use drama activities to teach other subjects; the course is not about teaching drama and thus is accessible to everyone, not just drama aficionados. The course includes both theory and practice in participatory learning and performative inquiry through drama techniques, particularly role drama. Role dramas are multiple activity, integrative projects that can focus on one curriculum area or integrate multiple curricular areas. For example, a role drama that focuses on a social studies topic such as ancient Egypt could include learning activities in geometry, astronomy, social and religious structures, music, literature, archaeology, and/or geography/environmental science, from the imaginative stance of “what if”?

The work of Augusto Boal and other community educators and activists is explored through readings and discussion. Attention is paid to multiple intelligences, multi-literacies, and complexity theory.

Learners develop and implement a role drama within their own teaching/community situation and share their discoveries with colleagues through discussion and an audiovisual presentation. Learners test out their ideas with their colleagues and faculty mentor before they implement their role drama, building on the ideas of the class.

LC 517 Performing Truth and Reconciliation (3 credits)

In 2007, the United Nations adopted a declaration of Indigenous Rights that was not ratified by either Canada or the US until 2010. This resistance to recognizing the rights of our own Indigenous peoples shows how deeply seated colonial attitudes of discrimination are in our countries’ governments and cultures. In 2015, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) completed its work, having heard thousands of testimonies from Aboriginal people about the abuses they suffered in residential schools over three, sometimes four generations. The TRC has published documents that reveal important information that had been buried away from our collective consciousness. Now is the time to look at how our education of Indigenous children can redress the injustices of the past, to reach for truth and reconciliation.

Learners in this course explore the findings of the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other documents such as plays, poetry, stories, film, and novels from a variety of Indigenous cultures to understand the legacies of colonialism so that we can move forward in our work as educators to honour Indigenous peoples and to learn from them. This course is about both personal discovery and social justice in education.

LC 518 The Spectator as Performer (3 credits)

A colonial worldview separates the performer from the spectator. The performer is the privileged one; the spectators, passive receivers. Inherent to this binary are complications, notably, that it is the spectators who pay for the performance, thereby enabling the performer to do her/his work. So there is a co-dependency that feeds the voyeuristic relationship permeating western performance traditions.

But – what if the spectator is brought out of the darkness as an anonymous audience member and is given the role and responsibility of participating in the performance event? In our digital age people crave opportunities to be seen, to come together to do something that counts, to exercise their whole being – body, spirit, mind and feeling. Thus, the seeking after extreme experience, of selfies, of participation in performative events. What can this have to do with education and how we involve our students in learning, engaging them as participants, not passive spectators?

Learners in this course we examine examples of “applied performance” in social and educational contexts to discover how spectator engagement works and discuss how we can use our findings to invigorate our own teaching, activism, leadership, and performance practices.


“Chasing the Dream, the GP Century Play” – a community participatory celebration of 100 years

In the Media




Publications/Presentations/Professional Projects

  • 2016 TRIC 37.1: book review: Medicine Shows: Indigenous Performance Culture by Yvette Nolan, publisher: Playwrights Canada Press
  • 2015 book review: From the Heart of a City by Savannah Walling, Terry Hunter, John Endo Greenaway, Publisher: Vancouver Moving Theatre, 2015.
  • 2014 “Learning Wisdom through Collectivity: The Women Writing Women Collective” to NASPA Journal about Women in Higher Education (NASPA_NJAWHE), issue 7.1. Co-authors: Barbara A Bickel, Luanne Armstrong, Lynn M Fels, Gillian Gerhard, Alyson Hoy, Nané Jordan, Nané Jordan, Jeannie Stubbs, Valerie Triggs.
  • 2013 Book Review: !Viva! Community Arts and Popular Education in the Americas, in, 11.1.
  • 2013 Dispatch : The GP Century Play project: contradictions and collaborations are the fuel”, in, 10.4.
  • 2011 “Wom(b)en Soundings” by Barbara Bickel and Ingrid Rose(with Mary Bennett, Nané Ariadne Jordan, Valerie Lys, Medwyn McConachy, Shirin Theophilus, Cathy Bone, Monica Brammer, Melodie Chant, Sophia Freigang, Tannis Hugill, Annie Smith, and Catherine Wilcox),
  • 2010 Book Review: Staging Coyote’s Dream: An Anthology of First Nations Drama in English, Vols. I & II, Theatre Research in Canada, 31.2.
  • 2010″Atomies of Desire: directing Burning Vision in northern Alberta”, Canadian Theatre Review 144.
  • 2010 “Theatre as Cultural Agent? The Creation of Collective Memory Through Theatre Performance: Kevin Kerr’s UNITY (1918).”ˆLobstick Vol. 7.
  • 2008 “Evoking Desire … and Irreverence: a Collection of Women Writing Women.” Shared authorship. Complicity: An International Journal of Complexity and Education, 2008, Volume 5, Number 1, pages 131- 139.
  • 2008 “Hybridity”, Book Chapter, in The Authentic Dissertation, Ed. Don Jacobs, FourArrows, Routledge.

Exit Point (from my dissertation: “Elasticity, Community, and Hope: Understandings from Participatory Theatre Performance”)

Mapping the journey

Part of what performance knows is the impossibility of maintaining the distinction between temporal tenses, between an absolutely singular beginning and ending, between living and dying. What performance studies learns most deeply from performance is the generative force of those “betweens.” (Phelan, 1998, p. 8)

At my exit point to this journey, I return to my idea of elastic tension in the ‘between’ and the metaphor of the bungee cord. Tension is an idea that comes up frequently in art, theatre, and performance. When I train actors, the essential element they must learn to manipulate is ‘dramatic tension’. If the dramatic tension is lost in a scene, the scene is over. The audience no longer cares about the outcome or the characters for there is no longer anything at stake–for the characters or for the audience. The same observation could be made of the corporeal body. When a body loses consciousness, it loses tension, it becomes a ‘dead weight’. As long as the body is in dynamic relationship with all its parts, there is tension, there is movement, there is life and signification. McConachie (2001) cites Erickson (1995, p. 62) to explain this in semiotic terms:

“The tension between the body as object and the body as sign gives birth to an awareness of presence as the tension between basic corporeal being and the becoming of signification.” . . . Thus, actors live at the dynamic center of image schemata experienced in the theater. . . . we can conclude that performers and audience members enjoy the dynamic oscillation between corporeality and signification in the embodied images they have constructed together in the theater. This experience occurs in all theatrical events that “work”, grassroots theater included ( p. 41).

I believe this tension is what holds the engagement of the participants in the day camp audiences or any performance where people feel themselves to be participating. It is this tension that I call ‘elasticity’ that allows that “something” to happen “between” participants whether it is described as community or connection or belonging.

Courtney explains that tension needs to exist, but that tension is not the same as conflict. He theorizes that oppositions can only be understood in the light of similarities:

The first of the differentiations made by the baby are those of similarity: of whole and part, of figure-and-ground. From these evolve all subsequent mental structures. . . . In other words, opposition is set within the context of similarity; it is similarity, not opposition, that grounds all mental structures. We should not confuse the tension between parts of a whole with the conflict of opposites (in Booth & Martin-Smith, 1988, p. 131).

Courtney’s distinction between tension and conflict is crucial to appreciating the dynamic of performance. It is also crucial to understanding the dynamic of building community. We can relate this to Freire’s “problem-solving education” (1989), Fels’ (1999) and Varela’s (1993) “possible worlds”, Courtney’s “polysemic meanings” (in Booth & Martin-Smith, 1998, p. 131). Courtney develops his idea further to connect symbolic thought with the dramatic process: “when we metaphorize and dramatize we create polsyemic meanings” (in Booth & Martin-Smith, 1988, p. 131).

The concept of tension or elasticity allows us to focus on the between/ness rather than the oppositions, escaping from the binaries implicit in colonial and patriarchal views. Buber sought synthesis of opposites; Fox speaks of the balance of opposites. Bourriaud’s theory of relational aesthetics clearly posits the between/ness of relationship that is integral to Buber’s and Gadamer’s understanding of art: “Artistic practice is always a relationship with the other, at the same time it represents a relationship with the world” (Bourriaud, 2002, p. 85). In/between/ness is also Victor Turner’s liminal space where performance plays into communitas. The questions I ask are, “What is the heft of this in/between space?” “How does it work?” I propose that how it works has to do with elasticity. What are the tensions between the oppositions? What are the possibilities of interplay? Bourriaud extends relationship from one to the other to relationship with the world. This simultaneous movement is elastic with multiple interactions occurring concurrently–a very choppy pool of water, a post modern, post structural world pool, containing many dilations of energy (Hastrup, 1998) and a good deal of Kershaw’s potential efficacy. My mind’s eye is seeing a noisy, focused, rampage of children wearing rat’s ears overwhelming a circle of townsfolk in Hamelin. They are caught up into a space-moment of possibility, of dilated energy, that is transformative, offering new ways of experiencing themselves and each other and the multiple worlds that co-emerge with each unfolding/emergent moment.

I return to Courtney’s “context of similarity” and relate this to Judith Butler’s forays into performance and performativity, explained by McKenzie (Phelan & Lane, 1998, p. 217-235). Butler posits Turner’s liminal space as not only a transgressive space but also as a normative space. Ritual, as repetitive action, reinforces normative behaviour. This is performativity: “Performativity is thus not a singular ‘act,’ for it is always a reiteration of a norm or set of norms” (Butler, 1993, p. 12). This is the status quo, the ‘normal’ of the ParticipAction day camps or the schools Tricksters’ Theatre visited. What participatory theatre is able to accomplish is a turning of performativity, within the familiar context of known relationships. The participatory performance introduces an elasticity, troubling the norm; that interrupts the repetitive actions of the subjects, to allow behaviours that transgress normative expectations. But these ‘new’ behaviours can only be apprehended through the similarity of the mental structures of the norm. This is a hermeneutic circle, for the “polysemic meanings” based on metaphorical expressions (for instance, a pool of choppy water), must necessarily diverge: they are only held in the tension of the similar, between a multiplicity of oppositions; they are not the same.

Phelan speaks about the perpetual disappearance of performance, that it cannot be saved; even if recorded, it becomes something other than the performance, a representation of the performance. It is through the disappearance of performance that it becomes itself (1993, p. 146). The ‘it is happening now’ of performance even when documented through audio and/or visual recording, is “only a spur to memory, an encouragement of memory to become present” (p. 146). Phelan (following Calle) explains that it is the loss of the object, or in the case of performance, loss of the event, that precipitates its recovery through memory: “The disappearance of the object is fundamental to performance; it rehearses and repeats the disappearance of the subject who longs always to be remembered” (p. 147). What performance does, which documentary cannot do, is implicate “the real through the presence of living bodies” (p. 148). I think of the youth leaders talking about how the children were remembering each other in the performance and how this created a bonding between them, of how the memories of shared performance generate community–a place where people are seen and recognized by each other.