Performance Ethnography2020-03-26T15:40:49+00:00

Performance Ethnography

Performance ethnography employs theatre and performance—as collaborative, multisensorial, and transdisciplinary modalities— at the level of ethnographic process, analysis, and representation. Our group members work at the intersection of humanistic anthropology, theatre and performance studies, and visual anthropology. We initiate dialogues about how ethnographic performance-creation might help us reconceptualize public engagement, activism, collaboration, reflexivity, and representation.


Becky Gold

Becky is a community arts facilitator, artist support worker, and emerging scholar currently pursuing her PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies at York University. She holds a BA Honours in Drama and English from Queen’s University and a MA in Theatre Studies from the University of British Columbia. Becky’s research interests include: disability theatre, interdependence and care politics in performance, performance ethnography, and imagining futures of disability through performance. This upcoming year, Becky will be facilitating a musical theatre program as well as a speakers bureau for neurodiverse self-advocates in Toronto.


Cassandra Hartblay

Cassandra is an anthropologist, playwright, and critical disability studies scholar-activist. Her multimodal ethnographic praxis includes performance and arts-based methods. She is Assistant Professor of Health Humanities and Anthropology at the University of Toronto in the Department of Anthropology and the Interdisciplinary Centre for Health & Society at UTSC, with an affiliation to the Centre for European, Russian & Eurasian Studies. Her work on disability experience in contemporary Russia includes I WAS NEVER ALONE, a stage play based on ethnographic research,  which has been staged at UNC-Chapel Hill (2016), UC San Diego (2016), and Yale University (2018).


Magdalena Kazubowski-Houston

Magdalena is an anthropologist, performance theorist, theatre director and playwright. She is Associate Professor of Theatre, and has graduate appointments in Theatre & Performance Studies and Social Anthropology at York University. Her research interests include performance ethnography, ethnographic storytelling, ethnographic (non)fiction, multimodal ethnography, physical and political theatre and performance. She has collaborated on imaginative ethnography projects with Romani people and Nazi-Holocaust survivors in Poland and Canada, and residents from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Her book, Staging Strife (2010), was awarded the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry Outstanding Qualitative Book Award and the Canadian Association for Theatre Research Ann Saddlemyer Book Prize (2011). Her article, “quiet Theatre: The Radical Politics of Silence,” was awarded the Canadian Association for Theatre Research (CATR) 2019 Richard Plant Prize, granted annually to the best English-language article on a Canadian theatre or performance topic. She is a Co-Curator of the Centre for Imaginative Ethnography (CIE).

Shawn Kazubowski-Houston

Shawn is a thespian, theatre director, playwright, photographer, editor and poet. He has worked as ethnographer and co-artistic director (Teatr Korzenie) on various projects in Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Poland. Shawn is also a registrar’s assistant at Emmanuel College of Victoria University in the University of Toronto.


Rajat Nayyar

Rajat Nayyar is an anthropologist and a filmmaker with an MA in Audiovisual Ethnography from Tallinn University. His recent film ‘Kashi Labh’ was screened at RAI film festival and numerous other anthropological film festivals and conferences. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies at York University, where his focus is on vocal traditions, everyday acts of resistance, collaborative fiction filmmaking and futures anthropology. Rajat is the founder of Espírito Kashi, a project that facilitates performative spaces for rural Indian communities to critically re-imagine folklore, decolonize archives and film futures. He also co-edits the ‘Performance Ethnography’ section of Centre for Imaginative Ethnography, a transnational research-creation network.

Between Screens and Bridges: The Mission of Museums in the Age of the Virus

The blog post linked below by sociocultural anthropologist Mark Auslander explores the need for creative approaches to human connection in the current climate of the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking specifically at the traditional role of galleries and museums in bringing people from all walks of life together, this post is a strong reminder that while we are participating in social distancing, that we can and should continue to seek creative approaches to connecting with each other.

A new book on performance ethnography, I Was Never Alone or Oporniki: An Ethnographic Play on Disability in Russia, by CIE Performance Ethnography contributor Cassandra Hartblay, is now available for pre-order from University of Toronto Press and The book is scheduled for release in May 2020.

I Was Never Alone or Oporniki presents an original ethnographic stage play, based on fieldwork conducted in Russia with adults with disabilities. The core of the work is the script of the play itself, which is accompanied by a description of the script development process, from the research in the field to rehearsals for public performances. In a supporting essay, the author argues that both ethnography and theatre can be understood as designs for being together in unusual ways, and that both practices can be deepened by recognizing the vibrant social impact of interdependency animated by vulnerability, as identified by disability theorists and activists.

The book is one output of several years of ethnographic research on the life experiences of adults with disabilities in post-Soviet Russia. More information about the development of the project is here. This book precedes a monograph, Totally Normal, based on the same fieldwork that explores the legacy of Soviet design in the life experiences of Russians with mobility impairments in one city in Northwest Russia.

This book is pitched to undergraduate audiences, and suitable for teaching in courses exploring disability studies, experimental and creative ethnography, documentary arts, engaged theatre, and contemporary Russia.

Reflections and findings from our rehearsal and creation processes.