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This paper is based on the analysis of setting and character in two plays entitled Bus Stop Journals, which were written and performed for a trans-Atlantic project in community-based theatre. The project was conducted by two teams from the departments of Theatre at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (USA) and the University of Zimbabwe between October 2004 and September 2005. The paper investigates the use of performed ethnography to subvert certain essentialist identities, which are often mutually held by African and American citizens. The project went under the title “Border Crossings – a Transatlantic Project in Community based Theatre”. It was funded through a Fulbright Alumni Initiatives Awards grant (AIA) involving two alumni of the Fulbright program from the two participating Theatre Departments. The aim of the project was to enhance mutual understanding through cultural co-operation between the peoples of Zimbabwe and the peoples of the United States.
The paper argues that the Border Crossings project harnesses the element of ‘thick description’ found in performed ethnography to parallel setting and character in such a way as to exorcise the ghosts of mutual distortion, stereotyping and essentializing that often takes place between African and American citizens. In the face of these mutually held (mis)conceptions and distorted identities, the paper seeks to demonstrate the power of performed ethnography to reach large audiences and encourage public reflexive insights.