Doctoral Dissertation - Helka-Maria Kinnunen

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Doctoral Dissertation

Doctoral Dissertation 2008

My dissertation concentrates on the artistic process of theatre-making and asks how stories and narrativity mould this process. I am interested in the collaborative nature of the theatre, and focus on how a production is made through collective activity. The challenges of combining thinking, knowing and artistry both in artistic work and in the researching of art are discussed. I delve into my research cases from a participating position: I am involved in the phenomenon that is researched, applying methods of autoethnography to the research process.

The dissertation consists of three parts. In the first, How to illuminate the path, I describe how I became interested in studying theatre processes, and present the research cases and the methodological commitments. I retrieve activities in artistic work in the light of Hannah Arendt´s philosophy. My narrative analysis is based on Hans-Georg Gadamers theory of hermeneutic interpretation and on the Aristotelian dramatic model. The aim of encountering the phenomenon that I delve into – the artistic process as a collective activity – is guided by Martin Buber´s dialogical philosophy.

The second part, How to guard the flame, is a research journey through the research cases. The first example, Sadetarinoita (Rainstories), was created in a devising process and was performed at KokoTeatteri, Helsinki.

The second process, based on Jukka Parkkinen´s trilogy, Suvi Kinos ja seitsemän enoa (Suvi Kinos and her seven uncles), took place at Lahti City Theatre. It was the only example that I was not involved in. The third case, Koti (Home), was a madeto- order production by a dancer, a musician and an actor, for Diakonissalaitos, Helsinki.

The cases witness various dimensions that narrativity can acquire in theatre work. Emerging discoveries create discussion between the cases, too. Possibilities and obstacles in the artistic work of theatre-making as well as the unpredictable character of action itself become central subjects of the analysis. Narrativity emerges as polyphonic (Bahtin), transformative (Aristotle) and lived landscape. From the researcher-artist’s angle the question of poetry in action becomes the ever-recurring ground of theatre art.

In the third part, On the borders of theatre and narratives, I analyse the plot of my dissertation process by presenting the fourth case, Dreaming in a hammock – overwhelming motion in the mind. It started in the research process and brought into it a dimension of artistic research. I also discuss my transforming theatre-maker identity and the changed understanding that the reflection process has brought to me.

Narratives emerge as multiple means in artistic processes. They nourish and guide the collaboration of the working groups and act as a means to develop the artist’s self-reflection. Narrativity can thus become a multidimensional socio-cultural mediator in the communication of theatre processes and dramatic art. When recognized, it may follow the artist as a lifelong companion in the building process of her or his inner narrative. Narrativity can discover the network of relations and commitments where the artistic activities take place and can create unimagined possibilities for these activities. Narrative analyses show that the artistic processes of theatre-making are profoundly and significantly intertwined with their environments. It is obvious that these relations remain mostly unknown in practical work.

When peering at the landscape that the research process has created and opened up, I suggest finally that a narrative perspective on reality should be considered as the ground and place for encountering collective theatre work and artistry, as well as the ground of theatre life itself – of thinking, reflecting on, and discussing theatre.

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