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On Research Based Theatre

"Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. It is a seeking that he who wishes may know the cosmic secrets of the world and they that dwell therein."

— Zora Neale Hurston


The Anthropologists makes research-based theatre. As we turn 15, I’ve been reflecting on this defining feature. Curiosity, as Zora Neale Hurston identifies, has been our driving force.

This year, I have re-opened the research archives for our very first play, Give Us Bread, which included cookbooks, homemaking guides, unpublished personal memoirs, menus, and photographs. So many of our plays have been born out of the frustration that women’s voices have been placed outside the scope of “History,” obscured and devalued. To find these lost voices, we have had to look in unlikely places, to develop, as one definition for research describes: “the habit of making close investigation.”

This spring, we have welcomed an anthropologist-in-residence onto our creative team, evolving how we approach, curate and interpret research. We are curious: how will this influence our search for the play?

From the French: cerchier; to search

For The Anthropologists, research is more than a noun: it is a verb and an ethos. The art of seeking is as important as the content itself that is discovered. It is the process of looking and looking again that provides satisfaction and pushes the art forward.

Cercher is connected to Circare from the Latin: go about, wander, traverse.

Our working process has always been imbued with a sense of wanderlust. It is the journey - exciting, troubling, tantalizing - that allows us to discover the play’s story and form. We use a ‘provocation’ (a guiding question) as a divining rod. This is our motivating force as we continue to seek and re-seek scraps of information.

Circus, from the Latin: circle or Kirkos from the Greek Kirkos: a circle, a ring. At first a reference to the large arenas that served as a performance space and then to the performing company itself.

I love the etymological connection between inquiry and performance. The circle is invoked in our logo. Our process itself is circular, from research to investigation in the rehearsal studio to scripting and then back to research again when new questions arise.

Re: back, back from, back to the original place, again, once more, undoing, backward.

We must sometimes unlearn what we know, be it knowledge of a specific topic or how to construct a play or what constitutes theatre. The obscure detail can suddenly reframe what we believe.

Re: repetition of action.

We continue seeking, seeing, making, creating, and sharing. We live out our motto: where art meets action.


Founded in 2008, The Anthropologists is dedicated to the collaborative creation of investigative theatre that inspires action. Fusing research, expressive movement, and rigorous dramaturgy, we create dynamic plays rooted in social inquiry. We use theatre to engage with challenging questions, to re-contextualize the present and reimagine our collective future. Learn more about our history and mission here.

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