Playing Diaspora as Sidney Bechet: A Meditation on Performance as Research

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In March 2016 I created the original one-woman show Me & Monsieur Bechet as a way of researching Bechet’s diasporic subjectivities through my live, moving body. The show privileged movement and featured walking, dancing, sliding on the floor and pushing against the wall. It also included dialogue and singing. It ran fifteen minutes and was created as a performative text for our students in Africana Studies and Dance. The show culled multiple research materials such as Bechet’s autobiography, recordings, reviews, interviews, comments from bandmates, radio and TV shows. The students were tasked with investigating a selection of these texts as well as chapter one before attending the performance. They filled out a questionnaire about what my performance added to their impressions and the performance was followed by a class discussion.

“Playing Diaspora as Sidney Bechet: A Meditation on Performance as Research” is a meditation on one significant performance moment from the show and how it addressed the opening question: How do we play diaspora? The essay is organized under two key themes that emerged in experiencing Bechet’s diaspora: double consciousness and the middle passage. In the end these themes represent not only the life of Sidney Bechet, but also my own life as well as collective experiences of the African diaspora. The significance of this performative meditation is that it presents answers gleaned through my own embodied experience as well as my students’ observations. This performative research elicited particular aspects of the physical and psychological experiences of the African diaspora that I may never have articulated so clearly otherwise. Thus, in addition to a meditation this essay is an argument for performance as a powerful research tool. 

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