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The encyclopedia show: community-based performance in pursuit of classroom interdisciplinarity

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In May 2014, The Encyclopedia Show: Chicago performed its last volume. Like all others before, the Show was a collection of performances devised by artists, musicians, poets and

In May 2014, The Encyclopedia Show: Chicago performed its last volume. Like all others before, the Show was a collection of performances devised by artists, musicians, poets and playwrights all performing various subtopics surrounding a central theme, taken from “an actual Encyclopedia.” The final show was Volume 56 for Chicago; the founding city ended their six year run with an amassed body of work exploring topics ranging from Wyoming to Alan Turing, Serial Killers to Vice Presidents.

Perhaps more impressive than the monthly performance event in Chicago is the fact that the show has been “franchised” to organizers and performers in at least seventeen cities. Franchise agreements mandated that for at least the first year of performance, topics were to follow Chicago’s schedule, thus creating an archive of Shows around the world, each that started with Bears, moved to The Moon, onto Visible Spectrum of Color, and so on.

Now that the Chicago show has ended, I wonder what will happen to the innovative format for community performance that has reached thousands of audience members and inspired hundreds of individual performances across the globe in a six-year period.

This project, like much of my own work, has two aims: first, to provide the first substantive history of The Encyclopedia Show for archival purposes; and second, to explore whether this format can be used to achieve the goals of “interdisciplinarity” in the classroom. In an effort to honor my own interests in multiple academic disciplines and in an attempt to capture the structural and performative “feel” of an Encyclopedia Show, this dissertation takes the shape of an actual Encyclopedia Show. The overarching topic of this “show” is: Michelle Hill: The Doctoral Process. In an actual Encyclopedia Show, subtopics would work to explore multiple perspectives and narratives encompassed by the central topic. As such, my “subtopics” are devoted to the roles I have played throughout my doctoral process: historian, academic, teacher. A fourth role, performer, works to transition between the sections and further create the feel of a “breakage” from a more traditional dissertation.

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  • 2017