International Journal of Education & the Arts

Volume 4 Number 1

January 30, 2003

I, Me, Mine: Soliloquizing as Reflective Practice

Monica Prendergast
University of Victoria
British Columbia, Canada

Arts-based qualitative researchers are expanding the borders of what constitutes educational research through work that recognizes and elevates the creative/imaginative elements at play, within a social science frame, in the researcher's interaction with his or her subject of inquiry. This paper examines the construction/creation of soliloquies as forms of reflective practice through an understanding of this dramatic voice applied to qualitative research writing. A recent research study in theatre audience education at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, presented soliloquies expressed as personal and data poems, dialogues of symbolic interactions (between "I" in practice and "Me" in reflection), as autobiography (talking to myself about myself), and autoethnography (talking to the group within which I place myself). Soliloquy writing offers myriad ways to engage in reflective practice and qualitative interpretive inquiry.


As a professional teaching theatre artist who is currently conducting interdisciplinary doctoral research in the fields of theatre and education, I have been consistently drawn to qualitative and arts-based research designs and methodologies. However, Barone and Eisner (1997) write that, "more written discourse about arts-based educational research currently exists than do actual examples of it" (p. 79). My practice is intended to be an exception to that rule. I have been inspired by the examples of sociologist Laurel Richardson (1997), who writes about turning her participant interviews into lyric poems. I have been encouraged to find my own voice (or voices) and research creativity by the work of Barone (1990, 1997), Barone and Eisner (1997), Connelly & Clandinin (1990), Greene (1995), Grumet (1988, 1990), and others.

My Master's thesis project “Imaginative complicity”: Audience education in professional theatre (Prendergast, 2001) involved the development, implementation and assessment of an extra-curricular audience education program consisting of pre- and post-show interactive drama workshops for senior secondary students delivered within the setting of a professional theatre company. This program, called Belfry 101, is now in its fourth season with the Belfry Theatre in Victoria, British Columbia, and has involved students from over 12 Victoria-area schools and artists from over 15 Belfry productions. An annotated bibliography of audience education texts and teaching strategies used in Belfry 101 were gathered and documented. A student participant evaluation questionnaire was created for the assessment phase of the study and consisted of sixteen open-ended questions dealing with many aspects of Belfry 101, in both cognitive ("What did you learn?") and affective ("How did you feel about it?") learning domains.

Throughout the course of interpreting this inquiry, I became more and more interested in using dramatic voice forms as a way of writing academic text. Specifically, I became interested in accessing a more internal, private, reflective and contemplative voice through research writing that I understand as a form of soliloquy. This paper offers an exploration of soliloquy writing as a potentially valuable aspect of interpretive inquiry that offers qualitative educational researchers an arts- based tool for autobiographical reflection and alternative forms for data analysis/representation. I begin by offering an example of a soliloquy poem taken from my thesis, and will follow with a discussion of definitions and understandings of soliloquy that are subsequently applied to other examples from my thesis study. My purpose here is to re-create the process I engaged in through my inquiry that led me to find soliloquizing to be a useful way to frame and present my research.


a passion for playgoing/
I possess/
a patriarchal gene/
passed down to me/
an unfair advantage/
given in inherited love/
through my father’s career/
and his undying joy/
in this art form/

a good story/
well told/
the only necessary/
but so much else/
can be stirred/
in the audience/
on stage/

how do I/
pass this on?/
to students/
who love drama/
who write/
      stage manage/
who rarely go/
to the theatre?/

where is the space/
for them?/

the answer lives/
in a professional company/
interested in young people/
desiring a younger audience/
willing to open their doors/
wanting to interact/
      to connect/

who is to do/
this work?/

a passionate playgoer/
a performer/
a director/
a teacher/
someone with/
the right genes/
the right mix/

me./ (Prendergast, 2001, p. viii-ix)

Soliloquy is a dialogue between an “I” and a “Me”, an opportunity to dig deeper into the source of an inquiry through what Connie Frey (1997) calls “innerlogue” – an inner dialogue (p. 30). This idea of an "I"/"Me" dialogue comes from the field of social psychology and the theory of symbolic interactionism (Hare, 1985; Hewitt, 1979; Perinbanayagam, 1985; Woods, 1992). Philosopher William James first described aspects of the self in "I"/"Me" terms:

"I" designates the "subject" phase of the process, in which people respond as acting subjects to objects or to the particular or generalized others in their situations. "Me" labels the "object" phase of the process, in which people respond to themselves as objects in their situation. (Hewitt, 1979, p.70)

Soliloquy happens when our acting "I" engages with our reflective "Me". The character of Hamlet could be seen as the embodiment of the tragic form of soliloquy, continually in flux between action and reflection, trapped between his "I" and his "Me" in existential crisis.

Dramatic soliloquy offers alternative ways for qualitative researchers and reflective practitioners to illuminate inner voice, a pre-textualized, pre-verbalized voice, a voice that is phenomenological in form.

Ordinarily the individual is unaware of his or her lifeworld; he or she is immersed in it. In this state, one adopts the natural attitude, taking for granted the reality and legitimacy of everyday life. . . . The great phenomenological philosopher, Martin Heidegger, conceived of difficulties or problems as occasions for becoming aware of the boundaries or horizons of the natural attitude. . . . The individual has to be “shocked” into awareness of his or her own perception, into a recognition that one has constituted one’s own lifeworld. (Pinar, Reynolds, Slattery & Taubman, 1996, p. 406)

Shakespeare’s greatest characters’ soliloquies reveal this phenomenological voice: Lear, Hamlet and Macbeth are characters who their audience sees living through intense difficulties or problems and their deepest, truest inner voices reflect the shock they experience in confronting the boundaries or horizons of their natural attitudes:

Macbeth: I have lived long enough: my way of life/
Is fallen into the sere, the yellow leaf;/
And that which should accompany old age,/
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,/
I must not look to have./ (V, iii, 22-26)

Bernard Beckerman (1990) calls soliloquy, "Perhaps the single most important type of act that involves direct communication to the audience" (p. 116). To playwright/critic David Mamet (1998) "soliloquy is essentially a confession" (p. 77). We in the audience are given the intimate privilege of witnessing a character who is deeply engaged in a conversation with herself or himself.

Soliloquies and monologic speech can be of two kinds: either the character debates with himself [sic], with the audience merely overhearing his innermost thoughts; or he actually addresses the audience directly. In the first case the character is acting upon himself ("changing his mind"), in the second he is acting upon the audience. (Esslin, 1987, p. 84, emphasis added)

Sociologist Lonnie Athens (1994) adds greatly to the understanding of voice as soliloquy in the essay The Self as a Soliloquy. Drawing on the philosophical/ sociological and symbolic interactionist views of George Herbert Mead, Manford Kuhn and Herbert Blumer, Athens outlines "Thirteen Basic Principles Governing Soliloquizing" (p. 524) in an attempt to synthesize and advance the concept of self as soliloquy, "In my opinion, the self’s fluidity must be seen as arising from our ever-changing soliloquies; while its constancy must be seen as coming from the stability of the “other” with whom we soliloquize" (p. 524).

The Meadian definition of soliloquy is:

a conversation between an "I" and a "me". The "I" represents the impulse or inner urge to act, as well as the later expression of the impulse in overt action. . . .Conversely, the "me" represents the perspective of the other from which the "I" is viewed. (Athens, 1994, p. 521)

From the Kuhnian position, soliloquizing happens when "We ask ourselves the question, 'who am I?' and respond with the answers supplied readily to us by our 'orientational other'"(Kuhn as cited in Athens, p. 523). In dramatic terms, we see a tension developing here between the "I" and "Me" and between ourselves and our "orientational other"; a term Kuhn defines as those with "whom the individual is most fully, broadly and basically committed, emotionally and psychologically" (Kuhn as cited in Athens, p. 523). Athens goes on to explore this internal dynamic by giving thirteen principles of soliloquizing, two of which are excerpted below:

Soliloquizing transforms our raw, bodily sensations into emotions.... If it were not, in fact, for our ability to soliloquize, we would not experience the rich tapestry of emotions that both bedevil and enrich our existence. (p. 525)

Soliloquizing makes possible self-portraitures. Conversely stated, it would be impossible for us to paint the relatively enduring pictures of ourselves with which we invest so much heartfelt emotion, if we could not soliloquize. (p. 527)

Athens’ essay provides rich material for research writing methodology. Certainly this awareness of the function and importance of soliloquizing creates a space in qualitative research for understanding voice as soliloquy. For, as Athens concludes, "Soliloquizing is the key to the self. Soliloquies supply the vital sustenance without which the self cannot live" (p. 530).

My recent research study allowed me to practice soliloquizing in a number of different ways. Following is a summary and a sample of writing from four chapters of "Imaginative Complicity": Audience Education in Professional Theatre. These are examples of how my understanding of soliloquy gave me the opportunity to talk more deeply to myself as teacher, actor, director, researcher, writer…even as daughter.

Belfry 101 in Reflective Practitioner Narrative

My story about the development of an audience education project in professional theatre is told from a reflective practitioner stance (Schön, 1983) and in a narrative voice (Barone, 1990; Barone & Eisner, 1997; Connelly & Clandinin, 1990; Grumet, 1990). Original soliloquy poems were placed throughout the entire text describing my more deeply-rooted interest in theatre and drama/theatre education. Here follows an excerpt of narrative autobiography from this introductory chapter and a soliloquy poem from later in the text. While the narrative tells the story, the poem reveals the deeper emotional underpinnings - the subtext if you will - of the events that led me towards and into this particular research inquiry:

I call myself a "backstage baby" and have been an avid theatregoer since I was old enough to stay up past curtain time. My father worked in professional theatre in England through the 1960’s (I was born in 1961) and my earliest memories of the theatre come from him taking me into work. I was hooked, and my passion for theatre has led me to attend professional theatre productions across four continents over the past thirty- some years, and to embrace the theatre as my profession.

This mini-autobiography serves to illustrate why it has been a central concern of mine as a secondary level drama/theatre teacher that my students go to the professional theatre themselves, and not limit their dramatic experience to the four walls of their schools. I was lucky enough to teach secondary school in downtown Toronto for a number of years (1991 to 1998), in a city with a vital and exciting theatre culture. Did my drama students go to the theatre? Generally speaking, no, they did not. Did I encourage them by going on field trips, bringing in touring productions, having them write reviews as course requirements, posting theatre listings and reviews on the walls of the drama studio? Of course I did. Did they get hooked, as I had already been for years at their age? Not to my satisfaction. They would have all the excuses one would expect to hear: lack of time (“I’m too busy”), ticket prices (“I can’t afford it”), general disinterest (“I prefer movies”). I would shake my head and wonder why. (Prendergast, 2002, p. 3)

the theatre

must never/
be boring/

must be/
the opposite/
of boring/

so it may/
delight and arouse/
the senses/
and the mind/

may soothe/
and shake/
and shock/

dig deep/
really and/
truly deep/

in the earning/
of a single clap/
or bravo/

my father/
dying /
complained little/
to me/
but that it/
was boring/

the theatre/
was his life/
and is mine/

if theatre/
is boring/
it is both/
bad and wrong/

there is much/
of theatre/
which bores/

but a moment/
      a memory/

(Lear cradling/

Salieri grieving/

Godot waiting/

Courage moving/

more than/
that which bores/

the actor/
steps into/
the light/

and we/
the audience/

transfix and transform/
what is performed/
with our collective/

create in community/
the space/
of the stage/

cooperate in believing/
this temporary      (suspended)/

ask only that/
our actor help us/

(by being always/
and ever/
and true)/

trust this journey/

make the trip worthwhile (Prendergast, 2001, pp. 54-56)

Belfry 101/Audience Education Literature Review as Autoethnographic Annotated Bibliography

In this chapter of the study, a literature review of material related to audience education is presented methodologically as an annotated bibliography, with an autoethnographic (Burdell & Swadener, 1999; Reed-Danahay, 1997) voice made with fellow teachers and theatre artists in mind as the audience.

Anthropologist Deborah Reed-Danahay (1997) tells us that

Autoethnography stands at the intersection of three genres of writing which are becoming increasingly visible: (1) "native anthropology," in which people who were formerly the subjects of ethnography become the authors of studies of their own group; (2) "ethnic autobiography," personal narratives written by members of ethnic minority groups; and (3) "autobiographical ethnography," in which anthropologists interject personal experience into ethnographic writing. (p. 2)

The methodological design choice to present the literature review section of the study as an annotated bibliography of audience education theory and practice comes from the latter stance described: it is both autobiographical and ethnographic. Autobiographically-speaking, when I worked as an actor/teacher in professional theatre or a drama teacher in secondary school, an annotated bibliography of audience education resources would have been a welcome addition to my resource files. Therefore, this chapter is generated from a clear autoethnographic sense of my own personal and professional membership in a culture of theatre artists and drama educators. An autoethnographic literature review has direct utility for theatre educators and artists who make up the professional practice-based ethnographic groups that are the intended audience for the study. As Gee, Michaels, and O’Connor state:

All thinking and all language use are social activities and, therefore, are inherently dialogic. . . .Even when a person is engaged in a monologue of some type, whether an exposition, story, report, or description, his or her language, thoughts, and actions are still saturated with and fully influenced by the audience to which the monologue is directed. (Gee et al, 1992, p. 235)

From this stance, I suggest that in this context autoethnography can be seen as a form of soliloquy. In positioning myself as an artist/teacher speaking to other artist/teachers through this bibliography, I am, of course, also speaking to myself. A soliloquy poem that opens this chapter reminds me that in my interests and practice I am not alone and that soliloquizing allows me to recognize the "other" to whom I speak:

These writers
These writers/
are my choral community,/
the topic space/
in which my thesis study lies./

They are the citizens/
of this terrain/
and together/
they weave a carpet/
along the footpath/
of theory and practice/
to guide my way./ (Prendergast, 2001, p. 24)

Belfry 101 Workshop Pre-And Post-Show Strategies Through "I" / "Me" Symbolic Interaction.

The pre- and post-show strategies and activities used over the first two seasons of the Belfry 101 project are voiced as soliloquy dialogues between "I" in practice and "Me" in reflection.

The "voice" employed is a form of soliloquy; a dialogue between the "I" and the "Me". This is a form of symbolic interaction (Athens, 1994; Hare, 1985; Hewitt, 1979; Perinbanayagam, 1992; Woods, 1992) that is useful in separating the "selves" when one is researching one's own work as a reflective practitioner (Schon, 1983). "I" is about action (drama) and process. "Me" is about reflection and theory. Peshkin (2000) writes in a similar way in his paper The nature of interpretation in qualitative research. He splits his text between describing an educational study in process and, indented and set off from the main text, the theoretical problematics he encountered in conducting the study.

Here, once more, the opportunity to write within a soliloquized framework allowed me to present these teaching strategies as both "I" in action and "Me" in reflection. Each strategy is described first as an "I" experience from my stance as teaching artist engaged in the process of facilitating an audience education program. That narrative description is followed by a "Me" reflection, where the role of researcher takes over to unpack each strategy, to uncover its theoretical roots.


I: This strategy has become a regular part of each Belfry 101 pre-show session. After the students sign-in and are greeted by me in a circle, we leave the studio where the workshops take place and go upstairs into the mainstage theatre auditorium. At this time of day (between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m.) we are the only people in the theatre, so the students fill up the front row and I invite them to "read the set" by simply asking them to tell me what they are seeing. This single question is usually enough to prompt a flood of responses, but I also guide their perceptions by drawing their attention to set design elements such as colour, line, shape, contrast, and texture. I keep the discussion focussed on the prediction of where and when the play might take place, and who the people are who live in this world, given what the set tells us. Another interesting point of view in this strategy is to consider the set itself as a character in the play: Who is this person? What kind of personality are we getting from this design? We also pay attention to set dressing and props visible onstage and ask what information they are giving to the audience.

I always find this strategy invaluable as a starting-off point, even more so when company members join us in this process. I notice how impressed the actors are with the accuracy of the students' insights and predictions, which are consistently sophisticated and multi-layered. I emphasise that this process is one that any audience member engages in when they enter a theatre auditorium, such as the Belfry, where a curtain is rarely, if ever, employed. Reading the set is the first job for the audience, before the house lights dim and the performance begins.

This strategy could easily be used by a teacher bringing a student group to a theatre production, simply by arranging to arrive earlier at the theatre. As long as a curtain is not being used in the production (and even if it is, the theatre may be willing to open it up for the students), the group can take the time before the house fills and the show begins to sit, contemplate and discuss the set. A phone call to the theatre’s education coordinator, publicist or house manager is advised, so that the theatre can be opened to the student group ahead of schedule.

Possible extensions of this strategy include Reading the Poster and Reading the Program. Again, the focus is on students' making predictions about the performance based on the clues they glean from these pre-performance materials.

ME: Neelands and Dobson’s (2000) recent text, Drama and Theatre Studies for AS/A Levels, has an invaluable chapter called "Reading the Signs of Performance" (p. 196-228) that incorporates looking at how students can learn to interpret the "signs", semiotically-speaking, given in a drama-in- performance. This examination of set, poster and program design opens up the areas of aesthetics, semiotics and performance and response theories. My understanding in this area has been assisted by my reading of Susan Bennett (1990) on theatre audiences, Susanne Langer (1953) on the perception of aesthetic objects and Keir Elam’s (1980), Willmar Sauter and Jacqueline Martin’s (1995) and Elaine Aston and George Savona’s (1991) work on semiotics applied to theatre.

Summarised briefly: An audience becomes an "interpretive community" (Bennett, p. 183) in the collective act of attending a drama-in-performance. Their interpretive work occurs on multiple levels and is connected to many senses: sight, sound and kinesthetic being the primary ones, although smell, touch and taste may be stimulated in a more indirect way through the play text, action on stage and/or design elements (set, props and costumes). The decoding process, understood by semioticians as the way humans make sense of the signs and symbols they encounter, has direct applicability to theatre. Understanding how these processes of interpretation function, and drawing students’ attention to these processes, is what underpins the Belfry 101 strategy I call Reading the Set (Prendergast, 2001, pp. 57-59).

D. Belfry 101 Student Evaluation as Choral Soliloquy Data Poems

This chapter presents Belfry 101 students' evaluative data in poetic form through the arts-based methodology of data poetry, with student voices presented as choral soliloquies - representing the synthesis of both the individual and collective voice forms. This collective voice form is intended to resonate with the communal and choral call and response/question and answer dramatic form found in the theatre of Ancient Greece (Beckerman, 1990; Cooper & Mackey, 1995). Each student's evaluative response is represented in each poem, but in random order and in varied amounts, from a single word to a number of continuous lines, phrases, sentences or words. Thus each student is given a voice in each data poem, but his or her individual voice is "choralized" in becoming an anonymous part of a collective voice. However, the tone of each poem is that of a singular and soliloquized voice; there is the sense of an individual "I" in each piece. Blumenfeld-Jones and Barone (1997, p. 98) write about soliloquy as a mode of arts-based data representation in qualitative research, “In this mode (soliloquy) we gather together the utterances of one member of the focus group as if there were no interlocutors present. These utterances are treated as if they had been presented in an uninterrupted, continuous fashion.”

Following are two of the seven choral soliloquy data poems written for the study and a final personal soliloquy poem about the experience of constructing/creating data poems from my students' evaluative writing:

POEM #8: How did this course (Belfry 101) develop your abilities as an audience member?

helped me/
as an audience/
take a look at the set/
see if I can predict anything/
about the play/

pay closer attention/
to the character's actions/
believable characters/

quick to point out/
what I do and don't like/
about the play/

make a note about what I like/
(use those techniques/
in future productions)/
advance my understanding/
more aware/
of others/
in the audience/
(an older audience)/

being there/
as a teenager/
made me appreciate/
the same art/
as people who/
are much older/
than me/

pay more attention to the detail/
(the simplest/
        of things/

enjoy and appreciate/
live theatre/
much more/
(good audience skills/
during a play)/
respect and patience/
made me aware/
what makes actors on stage/
how audience members/
have that ability/

(open up and see)/

POEM #11 - What was your experience working with students from other schools?

how was it?/
hard at first/
        awesome after a while/
differences overlooked/
good friends/
life friends/
        (I even dated one!)/
in no way/
new friends/
mission accomplished/
between school/
social climates/
(which sucked)/
got better/
good practice/
to work with new people/
people I didn't know/
like every job/
being professional/
in the work force/
self respect/
self image/
respect for others/
all sorts of views/
cool new people/
(these students/
        I see/
at performances/
or bump into on the streets/
        I love)/
My poems

My poems/
are my deepest possible responses/

the connections I made/
the way I could represent/
the clearest, most honest form/
(a creative act)/

        processual connections/
                between research and writer/

(no such thing as/
the disinterested/
                disconnected researcher)/

analyses of the data?/
the poems themselves/


The preceding are examples and samples of how an understanding of soliloquy can inform reflective writing practice. My inquiry into theatre audience education led me to write poetry, construct imagined "I"/"Me" dialogues, and to talk to myself in autobiography through my stories and autoethnography with my peers. I can also see the possibilities of soliloquizing in many other ways; through music, dance, photography, fiction and visual art forms. All art forms offer each of us the chance to reflect more deeply on existence and self through the action and reception of creation, through what Greene calls "releasing the imagination" (1995). Soliloquies, lending themselves as they do to strong moments of awareness, difficulty, reflection, expression, confession and identity, can play a substantial role in arts-based interpretive inquiry in a myriad of ways.


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About the Author

Monica Prendergast is an interdisciplinary doctoral student in theatre and education at the University of Victoria, where she completed her Master's thesis study on audience education in 2001. Prior to undertaking full-time graduate studies, Monica worked in education and professional theatre for over fifteen years. Her passions are, at this writing: performance; audience; audience education; arts-based qualitative research and data poetry.

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