Contextual Storytelling in Theatre and Peer Tutoring

For my final project for WRD 395, the course that all new undergraduate tutors take during their first quarter working at The UCWbL, I decided to compare contextual storytelling as we experience it in The Writing Center to theatre. If you’ve spoken to me for five minutes, you’re probably aware that I am a theatre student here at DePaul. As such, I spend up to thirteen hours of my day thinking about the way stories are told.

 

Core Practice

I chose to explore contextual storytelling in The Writing Center and theatre in connection with The UCWbL’s core practice “adopt and adapt specific strategies for each particular writer and their particular writing context.”

 

So, what is Context?

ˈkäntekst/

noun

  1. the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.

 

Context in Theatre

Context in theatre is essentially the exigence of a production: which play was chosen, what the setting is, and the actors cast are all components of theatrical context.

I focused my research on why directors choose particular settings and plays to do based on personal context as well as larger societal context. I also researched institutional context and how that informs the way an artist tells a story. Furthermore, I read three master’s theses and an article on sociological institutional storytelling.

One thesis coupled personal trauma with societal trauma using the author’s own personal and sociological context to inform what plays he chose to produce. Another student director learned the value of personalizing plays as a means of enhancing the need for storytelling. The final thesis I read involved a student who chose to travel to Kuala Lampur and direct plays framed around a government similar to the one he observed in his time there.

 

Here’s what I found:

Context is personal, political, and institutional; and all three branches of context impact us at all times. No writer or tutor leaves their identity at the door.

 

How does this relate to our work as peer tutors?

In our appointments at The UCWbL, our personal, social, educational, and political contexts intersect with those of our writers’.

Just like a director, the writer has cultivated a piece based on all of their contexts, from their personal history to the class their assignment is for, and they’re sharing that with you.

We encounter writers with all sorts of reasons for writing what they write—from highly personally motivated stories to essays they would rather not be writing for classes they would rather not be taking. It’s important for us to attend to that variety of context with care and respect. It’s also important to do so within the context of our context (meta, right?). Because we work at The UCWbL, we have a way of doing things that’s a part of the context under which we function as tutors, just as our writers have an assignment that attends to the context of their classroom. In the UCWbL, both writers and tutors are working under the same institution.

We and our writers also have a common goal, which is part of the context of our appointments. That goal is to help our writers turn in something they’re proud of, and give them the tools to continue to do so in the future.

So while variances in personal context can make navigating appointments a challenge, our mutual context within The Writing Center offers us shared interests and goals to work from.