Dr Victor Cova

Postdoctoral researcher

My work so far has focused on relations between North American Evangelical missionaries and Indigenous Amazonians (Shuar) in Ecuador. During my fieldwork, I collaborated with a theatre director, Brian Sonia-Wallace, to lead a workshop for young indigenous leaders. Brian Sonia-Wallace is based in LA and uses techniques from Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed. The 8-week long workshop had two aims. On the one hand, I had agrees with the indigenous organization (NASHE) to help develop a training and empowerment program for young Shuar leaders. The workshop aimed to help them develop public speaking skills, learn about and discuss the history of resistance to resource exploitation in the region, and to provide them with a platform to express their ideas, hopes and fears about current and future Shuar social life. On the other hand, I wanted to experiment with theatre as a research method. The workshop helped me generate new research questions and find new informants. I analysed the final performance in my thesis. Theatre of the Oppressed is particularly interesting as an anthropological research method because of its collaborative nature. It provides techniques to devise interactive plays with a group of informants. Thus, collaboration takes place not only for the production of a play, but also during their performance, which rely heavily on audience participation.

I have co-organized two experimental workshops with Carolina Borda to explore the potential of collaboration between anthropologists and performance artists. The first, which took place in 2010, revolved around the relationship between theatre and anthropological theory. It consisted of a day of actor’s training led by actor and director Ewan Downie followed by a day of discussions between anthropologists and performers. Theatre was treated less as an object of study than as an alternative form of anthropology. During the second workshop, in 2012, we worked with Butoh dancer Gyohei Zaitsu to explore the potential of dance as a research method. The workshop lasted for two days, with mornings devoted to an introduction to Butoh exploration practices, and the afternoons to discussions.

In my next research project I will examine the settler colonial frontier in the Ecuadorian Amazon through the prism of transgender indigenous sex workers. I am trying to develop a research framework that includes collaboration at each step of the research process – from the formulation of research questions to research methods, analysis and dissemination. I plan to continue using techniques from the Theatre of the Oppressed as research methods and ways of presenting preliminary results.