Brandon Barker, Lecturer in Folklore in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, and Daniel Povinelli, Professor of Biology at the University of Louisiana, recently had their play, Confessions of a Former Monkey Mind Doctor, selected as a featured event of Indiana University’s College of Arts and Sciences Animal/Human themed Fall 2018 Themester Program.
Over the past several years, Povinelli and Barker have published interviews and short works of fiction that wrestle with the complex answers to the question: What do humans want from animals? A forthcoming special issue of the Journal of Folklore Research co-edited by Barker and Povinelli, critically examines the recent, surprising rise of Aesopian Fables as a template for designing experiments in the science of animal cognition. This issue rallies interdisciplinary contributions, including comparative and developmental psychologists, and IU’s own distinguished scholars, William Hansen, Classics Emeritus, and Gregory Schrempp, Professor of Folklore. The special issue concludes with a new and extensive catalog of anthropomorphized behaviors projected onto animals in both folkloric narratives and scientific experimentation.
The show follows comparative psychologist Dr. Fomomindo, returning to her lab after a twoyear sabbatical to say goodbye to her beloved chimps she has spent her life studying. To her surprise, Mojo—a human-like-trickster-of -a-chimp—shows up in hopes of hooking the doctor into her old, scientific ways. But what happens when her pursuit of closing the gap between humans and animals leaves her trapped in a hall of mirrors from which she may never escape? And what happens to the animals in her care – especially the one inside her head?
The play takes the form of a new genre: a traveling theatrical lecture, an inversion of traditional approaches to communicating science to the public. For two years, Doctor Fomomindo and Mojo entertained academic audiences in New York, Germany, Estonia and elsewhere, forcing academics who study animals to confront the social, ethical, and philosophical implications of their work. Confessions' inclusion in Indiana University's Themester allowed Povinelli and Barker to develop the show into an entertaining and haunting drama for the general public. The play is kicking off a national tour focused on University venues beginning this fall at the University of Louisiana and the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette.