Just a few weeks ago, our performance faculty, along with some undergraduate and graduate students in the Department of Communication Studies, ventured on their annual pilgrimage to Petit Jean State Park in central Arkansas. There, our faculty hosted a performance festival attended by universities from all over the United States. This year, Dr. Holley Vaughn, along with UNT Alum and current associate professor of Communication Studies at SIU Dr. Rebecca Walker, lead the festival. Their topic, Petit Tourism, explored how and why tourism is a performative practice. Students not only enjoyed lectures from Dr. Vaughn and Dr. Walker, but also were allowed to construct their own tours of places and themes important to them at the festival. It was Dr. Vaughn's sincere hope that the time on the mountain would spark creativity, encourage critical thinking, and create a space for the performance community to grow and thrive.
Although much of the festival occurred in the mountains of Arkansas, a large portion was hosted by the Rialto Community Arts Center in nearby Morrilton AK. This historic theatre allows for lights, sounds, and audience comfort in a way that is simply not an option on the mountain. Lindell Roberts, the head of the theatre's advisory board, helped schools with their tech before the shows went up, and enjoyed watching the performances as much as the visiting performance scholars did. The festival attendees are grateful to Lindell for his work supporting the craft.
In addition to the tourism discussed at the festival, students also attended performances brought from other universities. Auburn University showcased Let America be America Again, a collection centered on racial inequality in the justice system and cycles of oppression. Students from the California State University at Northridge performed in a showcase of personal narratives about social justice. Louisiana State University gifted the festival with an adaptation of Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, a generational narrative about women and finances. Finally, Prairie View A&M brought I Got Your Back, a one person show about pain and medicine. Though different, these shows all exemplified how performance can be used to investigate a wide variety of social and moral issues in a public manner.
Students from this year's Petit Jean were glad to have gone. Sloan Scott, a senior in Performance Studies, remarked that "it's not every day you can discuss theories of liminality, the history of performance art, and critiques of the Narrative Paradigm with people who find these topics exciting, all while watching the sunset on a mountain top." She goes on to say that "the deep conversations I had about personal experiences, social issues, and aspects of advocacy brought me closer to my classmates than I could ever imagine. Meal Times with my professors and mentors opened new doors and formed new relationships that go beyond office hours. Petit jean re-lit a fire in me for performance studies and made me excited to come home and be a performance scholar."
We are so proud to host a festival that allows students to explore and express their academic interests, and look forward to Petit Jean 41 next October!