Origin myth drawing, !Xuu Bushmen, lower Kalahari Desert, Ethnographic research project.

TEDx UTD

Ethnography+ Indigenous Performance

My performance ethnography work is grounded — methodologically and theoretically — in my nine years as director of Tuma Theatre, an Alaska native group in Fairbanks. The work and research in Alaska garnered invitations to work with a variety of groups internationally similarly concerned with the issues of preserving and utilizing traditional performance expressions.


Subsequent projects include work with a Russian group devoted to pre-Christian, Slavic rituals, the Sakha National theatre of central Siberia, and two projects with the Zulu. Others include work with the !Xuu and Khwe Bushmen, the Greenland Inuit, Tamils, a multi-ethnic performance that toured Zambia, and a wide range of workshops, teaching, residencies and research and performance projects in Korea, China, Nepal, India, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Kenya, and throughout Europe ( Poland, Estonia, Finland, Denmark, and Sweden)  and the United States.


Projects are supported by a variety of NGOs, foundations, academic, and governmental agencies and often includes in-kind support and self-funding.  Projects are organized under the auspices of Litooma, essentially a one-man research and performance initiative that partners with theatres, centers, universities, and community groups.


The research material is shaped into scholarly publications and presentations, with all raw data given to local groups and agencies to assist in the preservation of the respective traditional culture. Often assist in the education and establishment of performance archives.


Several of the research projects have provided the foundation for the creation of a contemporary performance based on the worldview and performance vocabularies of the local traditional culture.  Rather than adopting out of had the predominate western dramaturgical model, the work aspires to re-imagine traditional expressions in a contemporary context. Such performance work often involves the application of drama and social therapy and cultural activism to deal with issues of racism, sexism, corruption, social inequities, and post conflict and post-colonial trauma.


The man who is insisting that Koreans embrace their own ways is ironically an American a person we might usually consider an imperialist. Regrettably Thomas Riccio, a director and playwright, is not Korean.

Che Min Ilbo, Korea


Riccio emphasizes that he is not an anthropologist by training, but when he is working with a theatre based on cultural tradition he often applies anthropological methods. Indigenous cultures are essentially oral and when put into written form only a small part of it is conserved. People, however, have much more knowledge which is about to disappear if no one becomes interested in it.

Kumppani Magazine, Finland


Dallas Museum of Art

​​​THOMASRICCIO