Catherine (Carey) West 3MT® Transcript | Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies

Catherine (Carey) West 3MT® Transcript

Catherine (Carey) West, 3MT® Presentation: Voices Claimed: Improvisation and Agency

Hi, my name is Carey West, and my dissertation, Voices Claimed: Vocal Improvisation and Agency, explores and examines the potential for vocal improvisation to develop skills necessary by survivors of interpersonal violence, or IPV, to testify in court. For fifteen years, I worked as a vocalist and a music teacher in an elementary school, and this work involved a lot of coaching of reticent singers to feel comfortable with their voices. I found that exercises focusing on vocal improvisation games and whatnot were really helpful in reaching this goal. In the midst of doing this work, I was also called to appear in court as a character witness in a case of interpersonal violence, or IPV, and I experienced the intimidating nature of the adversarial system. Despite over a decade of work as a confident performer, I endured the shame and self-doubt that silences many survivors of abuse. I’m not alone in this, as recently as early March, writer, director, and author, Sarah Polley, spoke on national radio about being discouraged from testifying in the Jian Ghomeshi cases. Despite her extensive experience as a performer, Polley didn't feel like she could deliver a convincing performance of memory on the stand. In my own experience of testifying, I was struck by the ways in which improvisation skills like risk-taking, self-acceptance, and articulation also play a pivotal role in the legal arena. My lived experience as a trial witness prompts me to ask, how can vocal improvisation practices inform legal processes in which testimony of abuse is required? The combination of improvisation studies and legal testimony may seem unusual, but this work is not without its precedence. Legal scholar, Sara Ramshaw, explores the relation between improvisation and the discipline of law to arrive at a just settlement. And I build on her work to examine the to examine the disparity between women who experience IPV and those who choose to engage with the justice system. Critical improvisation scholars argue that musical activities can stimulate changes in self-perception, for example, from victim to survivor. I combine these theories to explore the potential of vocal improvisation to inform confident testimony, bringing this cross-disciplinary theory into practice. I partnered with a non-profit group called Art Not Shame and the Community Engaged Studies Institute at the University of Guelph to deliver vocal improvisation workshops in hopes of helping victims of IPV befriend their voices. I want them to reframe their stories and document their experiences to inform policies in support of confident and accurate testimony. Mobilizing this knowledge bears promise of finding new tools for confronting issues against women within the legal system, but it also has the potential benefits for others who face alienation within the court system to the point of injustice. Thank you.