Southern Theatre, Vol. 60, Issue 2

Page 1

Volume LX Number 2 • Spring 2019 • $8.00

WHAT DRIVES SUCCESS? Muriel Miguel: Tell Stories That Are Important to You Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder: Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Work Levi Kreis: Embrace What Makes You Different Betsey Horth: Tap Your Creativity as a Leader

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– Timothy Barrington Technical Director / Instructor of Theatre Department of Visual & Theatre Arts University of Tennessee Martin

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Volume LX Number 2 l Spring 2019 l Southern Theatre – Quarterly Magazine of the Southeastern Theatre Conference


Departments 4 Hot off the Press

Plays About Human Connections by Zackary Ross

6 Outside the Box: Design/Tech Solutions

Reusable Cast: Create the Look of a Broken Ankle Without Breaking the Bank by Edith Carnley

8 Betsey Horth

Managing an Organization at the Intersection of Creativity and Leadership by Kim Doty

16 Muriel Miguel

Tell Stories That Are Important to You

20 Celebrating SETC’s 70th in Knoxville Photos by Caitie McMekin

24 Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder

Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Work

Cover Stanton Nash (left) and David Bowen appear in Triad Stage’s 2019 production of White Lightning, a play by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder that explores moonshining’s role in the development of NASCAR. (See story on Wilder, Page 24.) Director Sarah Hankins says the theatre in Greensboro, NC, wanted to focus on what the car represented – freedom and speed – rather than presenting a realistic image. Inspired by sculpture and red dirt, scenic designer Natalie Taylor Hart created the car from pencil rod steel covered in compressed Styrofoam plastic, while the road behind the car in the photo is a combination of Masonite and foam covered with fabric and jaxsan. (Photo by VanderVeen Photographers; Photoshop work by Garland Gooden; cover design by Deanna Thompson)

by Gaye Jeffers

by Amy Cuomo

30 Levi Kreis

Embrace What Makes You Different

by Tom DeTitta

35 Esthere Strom Receives SETC’s 2019 Suzanne M. Davis Memorial Award Presentation by Betsey Horth

36 Hop on the Cart

Making Theatre the Oily Cart Way

by W. Riley Braem

40 2019 SETC Young Scholars Award Winners Abstracts by Alex Ates and Kenya Gadsden Spring 2019 x Southern Theatre x 3

Plays About Human Connections by Zackary Ross


s social beings, we define our lives largely by the relationships we develop. On our journey through life, we grow and change through the interactions we have. We meet new people along the way, yearn to reconnect with others who have left us behind, and seek to

escape the orbit of others whose influence does us harm. What follows is a collection of newly published plays from major play publishers that explore themes of human connection and the joy, pain, laughter and sadness that result from it. Following each description, you’ll find the cast breakdown and a referral to the publisher who holds the rights.

Fireflies, by Matthew Barber

Lake artfully stages the conflict between

makes a profound statement about love,

A self-assured drifter has come to town and

big-city dreams and small-town realities.

loss and our tragic inability to form

up-ended Eleanor Bannister’s life. Content

The result is emotionally rich, grounded

meaningful connections with the people

in her retirement, Eleanor was happy to let

and refreshingly honest.

around us.

life continue on around her without taking

Cast breakdown: 2 females; 3 males

Cast breakdown: 5 females; 2 males

part, but the attentions of Abel Brown have

Publisher: Samuel French

Publisher: Dramatists Play Service, Inc.

set her world spinning and now all the

town is talking about it. However, when unknown truths come to light, this late-in-

High, by Matthew Lombardo

life romance threatens to close Eleanor off

Pressured to intervene in the case of a

permanently. Based on the novel Eleanor

19-year-old drug addict, the hard-swearing

and Abel by Annette Sanford, Fireflies is the

and blunt Sister Jamison Connolly counsels

quiet story of two people finding each other

the embittered Cody during his mandated

long after they had both stopped looking

rehab, and the pair begin to see they are

for love.

more alike than either realized. The play

Cast breakdown: 2 females; 2 males

explores the role faith plays on the path of

Publisher: Dramatists Play Service, Inc.

self-destruction and the surprising places

we find understanding. Cast breakdown: 1 female; 2 males

Five Mile Lake, by Rachel Bonds

Publisher: Broadway Play Publishing, Inc.

Jamie and Mary are living quiet lives,

working at a bakery in the small town in which they grew up. Both feel a bit

This Random World, by Steven Dietz

trapped by the choices they have made and

How often do we walk through the world

the family circumstances they have been

unaware of all the connections we fail to

dealt. When Jamie’s brother Rufus and

make on our journey? Following a set of

his girlfriend Peta show up unannounced,

seven intersecting lives, the play explores

the foursome must confront their past

the elusive nature – the myth, even – of

failures, forgotten dreams and the hard

serendipity. Bittersweet, heartbreaking

realities that define their lives. Five Mile

and riotously funny, This Random World

4 x Southern Theatre x Spring 2019

The Roommate, by Jen Silverman

In an effort to kick-start her life after divorce, Sharon has opened up her home to new roommate Robyn. As the women grow closer and Robyn’s mysterious criminal past comes to light, Sharon finds her own deep-seated desire to break bad too hard to ignore. Unfortunately, Robyn has moved to Iowa to start over with a clean slate and escape her past behaviors. This darkly humorous play investigates the complicated way we influence and are influenced by the people in our lives. Cast breakdown: 2 females Publisher: Samuel French Zackary Ross, an assistant professor of theatre at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY, also works regularly as a director and a dramaturg.

Theatre s o u t h e r n

From the SETC President




Southeastern Theatre Conference 1175 Revolution Mill Drive, Studio 14 Greensboro, NC 27405 336-272-3645 PUBLICATIONS COMMITTEE

J.K. Curry, Chair, Wake Forest University (NC) Becky Becker, Clemson University (SC) Gaye Jeffers, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Laura King, Gordon State College (GA) EDITORIAL BOARD

Tom Alsip, Oklahoma State University Lamont Clegg, Osceola County School for the Arts (FL) Larry Cook, University of North Georgia Amy Cuomo, University of West Georgia F. Randy deCelle, University of Alabama Kristopher Geddie, Venice Theatre (FL) Bill Gelber, Texas Tech University Scott Hayes, Liberty University (VA) Edward Journey, Alabama A&M University Stefanie Maiya Lehmann, Lincoln Center (NY) Brooke Morgan, University of Montevallo (AL) Tiffany Dupont Novak, Lexington Children's Theatre (KY) Richard St. Peter, Northwestern State University (LA) Jonathon Taylor, East Tennessee State University PROOFREADERS

Kim Doty, SETC Communications Specialist Denise Halbach, Independent Theatre Artist (MS) Philip G. Hill, Furman University (SC) PRINTING

Clinton Press, Greensboro, NC NOTE ON SUBMISSIONS

Southern Theatre welcomes submissions of articles pertaining to all aspects of theatre. Preference will be given to subject matter closely linked to theatre activity in the Southeastern United States. Articles are evaluated by the editor and members of the Editorial Board. Criteria for evalua­tion include: suitability, clarity, significance, depth of treatment and accuracy. Please query the editor via email before sending articles. Submissions are accepted on disk or via email. Stories should not exceed 3,000 words. Color photos (300 dpi in jpeg or tiff format) and a brief identification of the author should accompany all articles. Please note any photos, disks and other materials to be returned and include SASE. Send stories to: Editor, Southern Theatre, 1175 Revolution Mill Drive, Studio 14, Greensboro, NC 27405. Email: Southern Theatre (ISSNL: 0584-4738) is published quarterly by the Southeastern Theatre Conference, Inc., a nonprofit organization, for its membership and others interested in theatre in the Southeast. Copyright © 2019 by Southeastern Theatre Conference, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part without permission is prohibited. Subscription rates: $24.50 per year, U.S.; $30.50 per year, Canada; $47 per year, International. Single copies: $8, plus shipping.


In this issue of Southern Theatre, we spotlight the 2019 SETC Convention keynote speakers who inspired us with their stories, providing guidance to all of us who aspire to achieve success in our lives and our careers. We also focus on what success looks like in a nonprofit organization – SETC – and the principles that helped drive the organization’s major growth over the last 20 years. We start with our look inside SETC, which has seen its operating budget burgeon by 400 percent – with increases in services and geographic reach – since Betsey Horth became executive director in 1999. As she prepared to step down from that role this spring, she shared key tenets and real-world examples of her creative leadership principles with writer Kim Doty – with the hope that other nonprofit organizations might find success using the techniques. Not many people can boast of a nearly 70-year career in the arts, but Muriel Miguel, the 2019 winner of SETC’s Distinguished Career Award, has been founding organizations and telling stories since she and a friend started a Native American group called the Little Eagles when she was 12. Gaye Jeffers shares Miguel’s story. If you’ve ever doubted your own success – even as it was happening – you’ll relate to playwright Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder’s message in her Friday keynote. Amy Cuomo provides highlights from Wilder’s presentation and outlines the conclusion she has reached: it’s vital to “keep your eyes on your own work.” In his Thursday keynote, actor-singer Levi Kreis urged audience members to accept and embrace who they are as a person and as a performer. It’s a lesson that Kreis has learned well, as Tom DeTitta recounts in our story. The Teachers Institute this year was about creating success as well – in this case, with children who have complex disabilities or Autism Spectrum Disorder. Riley Braem takes us inside the strategies that presenter Tim Webb, founder of Oily Cart, uses to involve these children in interactive theatre. Rounding out this issue are some shorter stories. We celebrate the 2019 winner of the Suzanne M. Davis Memorial Award, Esthere Strom. We provide some new play options in our regular “Hot Off the Press” column. And we outline a cost-effective way to create a cast to simulate a broken ankle onstage in our regular “Outside the Box” column. Finally, we share the abstracts submitted by the graduate and undergraduate winners of SETC’s Young Scholars Award. The variety of perspectives and knowledge shared in these pages illuminates the SETC experience in Knoxville and beyond. I am confident you will find them valuable and stimulating. Enjoy!

Jeff Gibson, SETC President Spring 2019 x Southern Theatre x 5



Reusable Cast

Create the Look of a Broken Ankle Without ‘Breaking the Bank’

by Edith Carnley


hen Florida A&M University’s Essential Theatre chose Cat on a

Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams as the classic offering in our 2016-17 season, it seemed a bit of relief after the stresses of the show before it. As a costume designer, I was glad to see that the action of this play took place during a matter of hours on the same day and in one room. That meant one costume per performer. Easy breezy! Except, one of the main characters needed a little extra something to wear. Evelyn Tyler

That character, Brick, has broken his ankle the night before, so the actor playing him must wear a cast throughout the performance – never leaving the stage. withstand several falls by the actor, and

The cast created for Chris Beckford Jr. lasted throughout his performance as Brick in Florida A&M University's production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Sarah Lubin (right) portrayed Maggie.

it needed to come off easily after the

Discovering this wide variety of styles

Creating the Basic Interior Layer


actually turned out to be helpful, because

Researching Ideas

it gave us creative license to build the cast

into strips 2 inches wide and rolling

and not worry about it having to look like

them (below). The actor put on two old,

or order online, so I went to the Internet in

an exact copy of a cast from the 1950s.

dispensable socks to act as a barrier

search of ideas for how others had handled

Our Concept

between his skin and the plaster wrap. We

this problem. I found a few solutions, but

After a few failed attempts, we came

filled a bowl or tub with water so we could

I was not satisfied with the look or the

up with a cast that was reusable and

dip (not soak) the plaster wrap strips in

stability of the pieces. Another issue: Cat

could withstand the performance test. We

water and then wrap the wet strips around

on a Hot Tin Roof is set in the 1950s, so the

were short on time, so we had to work

the actor’s leg over the sock, making sure

cast had to look true to that era.

with supplies we could acquire locally.

to overlap ends of strips. We continued

In my research, I found numerous photos

For example, instead of ordering special

of people in the 1950s with broken ankles,

supplies such as plaster bandage tape, we

including some celebrities. However, there

used plaster wrap (the stuff they use to

were inconsistencies in how the casts were

make volcano projects for school) that we

applied. For example, Marilyn Monroe’s

found at a local craft/hobby store and then

cast for an ankle break was a sexy, thin

cut it into strips like bandages.

version, while others wore thick and heavy-

looking versions. The casts varied not just

stop, which we used as a foot rest on the

in thickness, but also in shape and size,

bottom of the cast. Using other items found

with some coming up over the calf, some

around the shop and the on-hand shop

covering more of the foot than others and

tools, we were able to create a cast that

some sporting footrests in varying styles.

didn’t “break the bank.”

Casts are not something you can borrow

6 x Southern Theatre x Spring 2019

Another find was a cheap rubber door

We started by cutting the plaster wrap

Process photos by Edith Carnley

The cast needed to be strong enough to

wrapping until we had three layers. We

Shaping the Cast

Wearing the Cast

wanted this layer to be thick enough to hold

Next, we layered more plaster wrap

its shape, but not so thick that it couldn’t

strips to seal the opening that was made

part of the cast. Then the back part was

be easily cut.

to get the actor’s leg out. We glued the

pushed into place and held with a couple

The actor slipped his foot into the front

Next, we waited – about 20 to 30 minutes

doorstop in place in the hole on the wooden

of pieces of medical tape. The cast was

– until the plaster hardened. (My actor took

footprint, and placed the footprint at the

wrapped with gauze bandage strips to

a nap.) Then we used scissors to carefully

bottom of the hardened cast, filling any

hide the opening (below). At the end of each

and cleanly cut the cast along the back of

spaces between the cast and the footprint

show, we saved and rolled the gauze so

the leg, taking care to tilt the scissors up-

with plaster of paris mixed with water.

it could be reused. The medical tape was

ward, away from the actor's skin. This al-

Once the bottom support was in place, we

removed and discarded. And the actor’s

lowed us to pull the opening apart enough

wrapped the cast with more plaster wrap

leg was once again free.

for the actor to get his leg out (below). After

strips until we were satisfied with the

this is done, the actor can leave.

shape. Then we let all this dry.

Two things we would do differently in

the future: We would seal the inside of the cast, and we would line it with felt or baby flannel to prevent moisture from softening the inside of the cast. n Edith Carnley is an associate professor of costume design at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. Preparing the Bottom Support

Making the Cast Wearable

While waiting for the cast to harden, we

We used a utility knife to cut away the

prepared the bottom foot support and foot

back part of the cast, from the top of the

rest. A small piece of thin plywood was cut

calf to just above the ankle, giving the actor

to resemble a footprint without the toes.

an opening where he could insert his foot.

In the middle of the footprint, a hole was

Cutting this in a curved pattern, rather

cut to allow the doorstop to be inserted

than straight down, made the two parts fit

without passing completely through the

together snugly, like puzzle pieces (below).

hole (below). The ridge on the bottom of the doorstop rested on the inside edge of the footprint hole. The hollow center of the doorstop was filled with plaster of paris mixed with water to make it solid.

Materials Plaster wrap, cut into 2” strips $18.00 Plaster of paris 3.00 Rubber doorstop or something similar (optional) 2.00 Medical tape 3.00 Gauze bandage 2.00 Small piece of thin wood 0.00 Old, dispensable socks 0.00 Scissors, utility knife, etc. 0.00 Paper, pencil, markers 0.00 Tub or bowl for water 0.00 Total $28.00

Do you have a design/tech solution that would make a great Outside the Box column?

Send a brief summary of your idea to Outside the Box Editor F. Randy deCelle at Spring 2019 x Southern Theatre x 7

BETSEY HORTH Managing an Organization at the Intersection of Creativity and Leadership Caitie McMekin

Tap Your Creativity


as a Leader

by Kim Doty

Creative leadership – the process of turning creative

1999-2019: Betsey Horth’s Impact on SETC


fine-tuning. And then you repeat all of the above!”

he 70th annual SETC Convention in Knoxville, TN, marked the 20th and final year of Betsey Horth’s leadership of SETC. For the last two years, Horth and SETC board and staff members have worked – with Horth leading the process – to plan a smooth transition into a future that will be shaped Susie Prueter (left) and Betsey Horth under new management. As they welcome SETC’s new leader, Susie Prueter, board members also are looking back and reflecting on the impact of Horth’s tenure as executive director. At the 69th annual SETC Convention in Mobile, AL, SETC Past President Jack Benjamin surprised Horth by announcing her as the recipient of the 2018 Suzanne Davis Memorial Award, established to honor distinguished

Horth’s emphasis on imaginative problem-solving

service to SETC over a number of years. Benjamin took the opportunity to

is a direct product of her own longtime interest in the

describe Horth’s influence: “Not only has our honoree impacted many facets

field of creativity. While teaching costuming in the

of SETC, they have impacted every facet. Our honoree has been a driving force for the prominence of SETC in the Southeast and beyond. During their service, SETC has grown in numbers physically as well as financially. They have been the cornerstone for the national distinction SETC has gained due to our convention, publications and relationships with many other theatre organizations across the country.” Specifically, SETC has grown from one full-time and two part-time workers in 1999 to a staff of eight full-time and three part-time workers in 2019. From 1999 to 2018, SETC’s operating budget grew by more than 400 percent, from $343,000 to $1.43 million. SETC’s defining successes under Horth’s leadership include: • Fostering and embracing SETC’s evolution from a regional to a national theatre organization, while ensuring that the organization stayed true to its Southeastern roots. In 2019, SETC’s membership and attendance at its annual convention and other events included individuals from 49 states. • Maintaining a strong, self-sustained financial base while steering the organization through a period of major growth. SETC remained in the black as it added new services, dramatically increased existing ones and expanded to year-round operation. At her final convention as executive director, Horth was named Executive Director Emeritus by SETC’s Executive Committee and learned that longtime member John Spiegel would spearhead a new SETC arts management scholarship in her name. In addition, she was honored as a 2019 inductee to the SETC Hall of Fame – nominated by SETC President Jeff Gibson. “Her accomplishments are too exhaustive to list, but I don’t think it would be an overstatement to say that she has been one of the most impactful, if not the most impactful leader in SETC’s history,” he said. - Kim Doty

thinking and exploration into tactical, tangible results – defines the last 20 years at SETC. As Betsey Horth leaves the organization, she shares insights on this concept that has been the driving force in her work and outlines some of the problem-solving principles she used to guide SETC’s transformation during her two decades as executive director. “Creative leadership begins with providing an open environment that encourages the engagement of many, having a flexible mind-set, and welcoming original thinking,” Horth says. “Then you build on that to deliver results. You start with the “What If?” that inspires, move on to the “What Now?” of making it happen, and continue with the “What Next?” for

early 1990s, she was so drawn to the concept that she returned to school at Buffalo State College in New York to pursue a master’s degree in creativity. “While most people were going to graduate school for arts administration, business or other terminal degrees, in 1992 I went off in search of a degree that would help me understand the creative process,” says Horth.

When SETC hired her as its executive director in

1999, Horth approached the new role with a keen interest in building an organizational culture that fostered ingenuity. Her specialization in creativity – combined with a background in acting, costuming, teaching, writing and marketing – provided a powerful confluence of expertise. She could offer a diversity of perspectives to match the diversity of theatre constituencies SETC aims to serve – and she was able to navigate the fluidity of roles required to lead a small staff in the production of one of the nation’s largest theatre conventions.

SETC naturally became her testing ground as she

worked to advance her own entrepreneurial thinking, leadership principles, business practices and creative problem-solving concepts. Over the past two decades, Horth’s methods and values not only have blossomed but also have taken root within the Central Office staff and in the organization as a whole. The practices she fostered have become integral to how SETC conducts its business and fulfills its mission.

Her creativity-focused approach differs so much

Opposite page: Betsey Horth discusses SETC business with President Jeff Gibson. Spring 2019 x Southern Theatre x 9

'I search for beneficial reciprocity especially when working in new locations.'

from the traditional arts management track that Horth

for beneficial reciprocity especially when working in

believes she could write a book that might be helpful

new locations,” Horth says.

to others in the arts, detailing the techniques and tools

3 Example: Beneficial Reciprocity in Action

she’s put into practice at SETC. The following general

with a Community

concepts offer a glimpse into the methods Horth used

to grow SETC into the major theatre organization that

Mobile, SETC staff members were touring the parking

it is today.

area of the Mobile Convention Center when Brandt


Wilhelm, the director of operations for the convention

SETC is composed of an intricate and sprawling

center, offhandedly asked if the organization would

web of communities. It’s a membership organization

be interested in painting one of the main walls by the

that serves all levels of theatre practitioners within all

elevator. Within moments, the idea for a Scenic Paint-

theatre disciplines, one that welcomes participants

ing Masterclass was being floated – and details soon

from across the nation, and one that hosts its events in

were being worked out. SETC tapped several scenic

a variety of cities around the Southeast. Accordingly,

design experts to lead the class, and when convention

one of Horth’s primary directives has been to create

time arrived, students worked under their direction

and maintain meaningful relationships wherever she

to paint a mural depicting the Azalea Trail Maids of

can. “Relationships are paramount – up and down the

Mobile, with the convention center covering the costs

spectrum,” Horth says.

of materials, including paint supplied by Sculptural

Those relationships build the networks that keep

Arts Coating, a convention exhibitor. Bottom line:

day-to-day office operations running smoothly, allow

The convention center received a great face-lift for its

SETC to hit the ground running at disparate host cit-

parking area, and participants in the workshop got

ies and event venues, and expand opportunities for

tangible training in the art of mural painting.

others in innovative ways.

3 Example: Beneficial Reciprocity in Action

with a Festival Host

One of SETC’s guiding practices in building com-

A few months before the 2018 SETC Convention in

munity stems from Horth’s master’s thesis, “Theory

A second example of reciprocity repeats itself

and Applications of Networking in the Field of

annually as part of the annual convention. SETC

Creativity” (1994). Horth’s research stressed the

produces two competitive theatre performance fes-

importance of “reciprocal exchange,” a process that

tivals: the Community Theatre Festival and the High

occurs when two or more individuals or organiza-

School Theatre Festival. Each competition requires its

tions uncover a common interest, which leads to each

own theatre venue which, of course, requires money

providing something beneficial to the other.

to operate. However, neither competition generates

SETC often employs this principle in forging part-

the funds to cover those costs. So, Horth applies the

nerships for events at the SETC Convention. “I search

principle of reciprocity in her search for host venues. “The first question I ask myself when entering into a potential site review is, ‘What other value does SETC bring to a potential host theatre?’” Horth explains. “By examining what we have to offer other than money, SETC has been fortunate to have host theatres over the years provide us the theatre space for mutual benefits and reduced costs.”

For college hosts, SETC has been able to provide

a variety of benefits. The college's theatre students Porfirio Solorzano

get an opportunity to run the competition, garnering valuable on-the job experience. SETC also may provide students with convention registrations in exchange for access to the school's theatre facilities. Colleges and universities also benefit from attracting Scott Bradley (front) was the scenic designer for SETC’s mural project in the Mobile Convention Center parking garage. He taught students and supervised work on the mural along with other designers. 10 x Southern Theatre x Spring 2019

participating High School Theatre Festival groups (composed of potential college students) onto their campuses. High school hosts, meanwhile, have re-

ceived convention registrations for students and had

Creative Leadership Principles

workshops brought to their campuses at no charge. Horth finds the initial networking efforts in a

from Betsey Horth

community can have long-term effects. “When we are invited to return to these venues, it confirms the reciprocity concept of networking theory,“ Horth

1. Pay attention


Listen, listen, listen.

For example, at the 2020 SETC Convention in

Look, look and look again.

Louisville, KY, the Community Theatre Festival will

Take a 360-degree view.

be held for a second time at Youth Performing Arts

Embrace diverse points of view.

School (YPAS), a magnet school open to students by

2. Define the market for your organization or service

audition only. In 2013, the last time the convention

Who does it serve?

was in Louisville, the school hosted the festival – and

How is your product unique in this market?

SETC provided convention registrations to 15 of their

Are you exploring mission-driven products and services?

students at no charge. SUSTAINABLE FINANCING

3. Embrace data

When it comes to most financial decisions, Horth

Outside the field: What’s happening in the world?

has made a point of running SETC, a 501(c)3 nonprofit

Inside the field: What's happening in the field but outside work boundaries?

organization, more like a for-profit corporation. She

Qualitative and quantitative: Perform internal/external reviews.

believes it is vital that all funding for a service, an

Debrief: Do a thorough examination of current practices.

event or an office expansion be accounted for before embarking on the new endeavor.

4. Create synergy

Strive for inclusion of ideas, people and processes.

In addition, Horth is adamant that SETC’s fiscal

health should not depend on grants or other outside

Value collaboration and teamwork.

funding. “We rely on our products and services to

Encourage new ideas.

generate our income,” Horth says. Simply put: “Make

Connect opportunities.

it before you spend it.”

5. Get out of the way

New projects are accompanied by mini business

Results are about the product, not you.

plans. Each project must have its own blueprint that

Create the space for others to excel.

takes into account the costs associated with it.

Give credit and celebrate others' work.

3 Example: Business Plan, Masterclasses

In 2009, SETC introduced masterclasses – more

6. It’s okay not to know

intensive programs offered in addition to the

Call on expert resources.

traditional workshops at the SETC Convention. As

Become a lifelong learner.

the concept developed, Horth identified a number of associated costs, including location, talent, logistics, travel, food and beverage. Next, she added a figure

3 Example: Tailor-Made Sponsorships

that she calls “and then some.” This, she says, is “a

highly untechnical term that is vital for covering

another example of using ingenuity to bring benefits

hidden costs and developing sustainability.” Once the

to those attending the SETC Convention. SETC often

cost of the masterclasses was calculated, Horth turned

turns to other companies and organizations to help

her attention to the revenue stream. Masterclasses

fund events and products that enhance programming.

were a new event – an added value for those attend-

Horth’s operative philosophy has been that SETC

ing the annual convention – so participants were

does not have to make money on these added values,

asked to pay a nominal fee. This fee was developed

but that the costs do need to be covered. Developing

using a 60/40 model, with 60 percent of the income

the right sponsorship opportunity comes down to

going to cover SETC’s expenses and the remaining 40

identifying what audience would be served, who

percent going to the presenter. This allows SETC to

could benefit from reaching that audience, and what

cover its costs – and attract presenters at the top of

unique connections could be made.

their fields.

Horth’s approach to developing sponsorships is

For example, receptions at SETC events add an imSpring 2019 x Southern Theatre x 11

SETC attendees receive added value, and the schools receive targeted publicity. RESOURCEFULNESS

Much of SETC’s growth has been rooted in an almost stubborn insistence on making great things happen out of limited resources. Horth credits her family as the source of her resourceful nature. Her childhood was spent in the Pennsylvania country, where her parents bought a 150-year-old stone farmhouse. In what Horth calls “a labor of love and ingenuity,” her family worked to restore their home Porfirio Solorzano

and land by themselves. “Rube Goldberg had nothing on my parents,” says Horth. “Their resourcefulness had them always looking for multiple ways to solve a problem.” That same creative problem-solving process has helped spawn a number of new programs designed to serve SETC’s membership. A sponsor tosses T-shirts into the crowd at the 2018 SETC Convention Design/ Tech Mixer. By offering sponsorships of events such as the DesignTech Mixer, SETC offers companies a chance to connect with their SETC audiences and provides enhanced networking opportunities to convention attendees.

portant dimension to the networking already taking

3 Example: Ready to… Programs

place. However, the cost for food and beverage isn’t

covered by event registrations. Some of the questions

Technology Committee at the time, approached Horth

that frame sponsorship solutions are: Who would

with a concern about the declining number of gradu-

possibly garner increased exposure from hosting a

ate-level entrants in the annual Design Competition.

particular reception? What can we make sure they

“I actually think I channeled my father overnight,”

get in return? How would it benefit them?

Horth says. She regrouped with Snyder and other key

“Sponsorships add ambience to SETC through

leaders the next day, and Horth pitched an idea for a

connecting the targeted constituency to the sponsor’s

“Ready to Work” (now, “Ready to Design”) program,

interest,” says Horth.

offering professional work opportunities to select

In what’s become an opening night standard at

graduate entrants in the Design Competition.

SETC’s annual convention, Disney Theatrical Group

sponsors a cocktail reception in honor of workshop

might want from entering the competition,” Horth

presenters and professional company representatives.

says. “The recognition or cash prizes weren’t enough,

Through this outreach effort, Disney representatives

and the critiques of their work by leading designers

have the opportunity to connect with their audience

no longer meant much to students about to embark

– the segment of SETC’s constituency that would

on their professional careers. And with that, ‘work’

be interested in and capable of producing their

entered the solution.”


In 2008, Troy Snyder, chair of SETC’s Design and

“I got there by asking myself what a grad student

Flash forward 11 years, and SETC now partners

For 15 years, a rotating selection of tech companies

with four professional theatres in offering annual

– such as Barbizon Lighting, 4Wall Entertainment,

Ready to Design awards. Each sponsoring theatre

Robe Lighting, InterAmerica Stage, 1st Street Music &

selects one graduate entrant from the Design Compe-

Sound Co. and Point Source Audio – have sponsored

tition as its winner. That winner is offered professional

the annual SETC Convention Design/Tech Mixer,

work as a designer on a production in the company’s

where they provide entertainment and throw swag

upcoming season. A number of these designers have

to the 400 designers and technicians in attendance.

been invited to return to work on other productions at

Frequently, companies or organizations reach out

their sponsor theatres. One winner, Josafath Reynoso,

to SETC seeking sponsorship opportunities. Two

went on to win the Gold Award for Emerging De-

universities wanted to reach the High School Theatre

signer at the 2017 World Stage Design exhibition in

Festival attendees. One now sponsors an Opening

Taipei for the scenic design he created for Cat on a Hot

Night Masterclass and Pizza Party; the other, a printed

Tin Roof while working at sponsor theatre Triad Stage.

festival program that is handed to every attendee.

The concept of building direct pathways to im-

Once again, this is beneficial reciprocity in action:

mersive and rewarding professional experiences has

12 x Southern Theatre x Spring 2019

since expanded to two more “Ready to” initiatives. Early and mid-career directors have the Ready to Direct competition, and playwrights now have the Ready to Publish award sponsored by SETC and play publisher Stage Rights. ORGANIC GROWTH

While some challenges spark solutions overnight,

others take patience. Horth advocates for being nonhasty whenever you have the luxury. “Nonprofit organizations can sustain themselves if they take their time, pay attention from all directions, and move

Josafath Reynoso

together,” Horth says. When she started at SETC, Horth was methodical

in learning the ins and outs of the organization. “Perhaps it was my initial insecurity in taking the position or the challenge of understanding the dynamics of the organization, but I started slowly,” she says. “As I grew, I learned how to grow the organization.”

ing. “Why don’t we add ‘nationwide’ to our mission

Patience helped Horth become the leader she

statement?” Richardson asked.

is today, and it’s also been a key in keeping SETC

“We audibly gasped and then embraced the

on steady financial footing as it’s bulked up in staff

elegant solution,” Horth says. “Instead of paying

members, expanded its offerings and reckoned with

$20,000 to a PR firm to help us adjust our branding

the implications of its own growth. Another important

language, we looked within our collective community

component has been Horth’s insistence on making the

and found this one word that captured the essence of

effort to listen, look full circle, work cooperatively and

who we are today.”

seek out diverse points of view. “By paying attention

and working collectively, we have been able to build

opted the revised SETC mission statement: “Connec-

a strong SETC foundation,” Horth says. “We haven’t

ting You to Opportunities in Theatre Nationwide.”

run into a wall yet that we can’t figure out how to


manage through, over or around.”

3 Example: Branding a Changing SETC

key to improvement. For Horth, that doesn’t mean

The origins of the Southeastern Theatre Confer-

just any analysis. How the analysis is presented and

ence date to 1949, when 55 Southerners convened for

couched is critical: “I believe in mind-set,” Horth says.

a meeting. Seventy years later, roughly 26 percent of

SETC’s members do not reside in the Southeast. Those

nity use the term “post-mortem” to analyze a project

who do often pursue careers and schooling outside the

or production upon completion, but Horth avoids the

region, and many non-Southerners choose to live, work

term with a passion. “I refuse to use a label that in

and study in the South. Thus, one of the more confus-

the medical world means ‘after death,’ ” Horth says.

ing challenges Horth dealt with was how to maintain

“The term frames the event examination as picking

SETC’s Southeastern heritage while acknowledging a

apart the dead.” Horth warns that inherent in this

national – even international – audience.

terminology is an attitude of “It’s over. Let’s wallow

Three months later, SETC’s Board of Directors ad-

Most business leaders will agree that analysis is

Many businesses and much of the theatre commu-

“Boiled down, our regional name and the reality

in sadness over what went wrong.”

of our reach had become a branding contradiction,”

Horth says. “We grappled with this dilemma for

process she learned during her graduate school study

several years in the office, with board members and

of creativity. “The purpose of the exercise is to expand

anyone who wanted to explore the issue.”

thinking versus closing it down, to look at continuous

The Ready to Design initiative provides talented designers with a work opportunity and valuable exposure. The scenic design that Josafath Reynoso created for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (above) as a 2015 award winner working at Triad Stage in Greensboro, NC, went on to win the 2017 Gold Award for Emerging Designer at the World Stage Design Exhibition in Taipei. Reynoso now works internationally as a freelance scenic designer and is an assistant professor of scenic design at the University of Richmond.

Horth prefers the word “debriefing,” a term and a

After all those years of conversation, Julie A. Rich-

improvement rather than move on from a completed

ardson – a professional director and stage manager

project. The tools are useful for completed projects,

who has been involved with SETC for decades –

programs and just about anything that requires or

offered a simple solution one day at a strategy meet-

benefits from a qualitative review.” Spring 2019 x Southern Theatre x 13

3 Example: The SETC Debrief

breakfast and continue through a delivered

SETC’s team was able to solve multiple

After every major event, the SETC

lunch well into the afternoon.

challenges from multiple perspectives.”

Central Office team gathers to celebrate the


completion of the project and to examine

methods of analysis she was introduced to


“what worked” and “what didn’t.” Process

at Buffalo State College during her master’s

templates are also sent to anyone outside

program: PPCO (Pluses, Potentials, Con-

tinuous improvement. Instead of “growth,”

the office who contributed major energy to

cerns, Overcomes) and ALU (Advantages,

her focus is on the process itself.

the leadership or management of the event.

Limitations, Unique connections). Both

The emphasis in Horth’s approach is

tools are built on the same basic structure:

individuals willing to ‘roll up their sleeves

to create a safe environment in which all

Focus first on positive observations.

and dig in,’ in addition to maintaining an

members on the team are motivated and

Celebrating the “pluses” – successes, both

openness to explore ideas and methodically

invested in continually improving the

big and small, collective and individual –

build them into tangible outcomes, created

work they do on behalf of the organization.

creates a celebratory environment while

an environment in which change occurred

Daylong debriefs start with a continental

sharing and tracking details of what

in steps, which ultimately resulted in the

worked to the group.

growth of SETC,” she says.

Next, jump into the challenges. Chal-

New ideas haven’t originated just

lenges are framed in a problem-solving ter-

with individuals. Organizations also have

Event, Program or Process

minology rather than stated as a “problem”

found SETC an open and accepting place


or a negative verdict on a piece of action.

to explore innovative ideas and programs.

For example, Horth notes, “Instead of say-

For the last five years, SETC has partnered

ing, ‘There wasn’t enough time between

with USITT (United States Institute for

workshop sessions,’ we would frame it

Theatre Technology) on LiNK, a graduate

as a question: ‘How might we create more

school recruitment event. And, in 2017, the

time for our attendees to get from one

Institute of Outdoor Theatre merged with

workshop to another?’ ”

SETC. In both instances, SETC’s services in-

Finish with opportunities. These often

creased and the organization grew in new,

stem directly from the positive and chal-

unexpected directions while continuing to

lenging observations already discussed.

serve its mission.

After the debrief, notes are formatted

Horth believes the process of creative

and exchanged among participants. Now

leadership can be applied anywhere, tak-

the problem-solving can begin. Often

ing different forms in each organization

problem-solving of the challenges is in-

in response to the objectives and needs of

stantaneous because the challenge has been

that entity and its leaders. However, the

framed as a question.

benefits of using a creative process are the

same across all types of businesses and

Template for a Debrief: Note Positive Observations and Experiences (Pluses) Don’t rush this first step. It cements and celebrates what worked. • Stay in this zone – hold all challenges to the next step. • Verbalize successes, large and small – anything and everything that comes to mind, one’s own observations as well as things that were heard.


Express Concerns/ Challenges These should all begin with the phrase “How to” (H2) or “How Might We” (HMW) in front of them. This technique immediately takes you to seeking solutions – but don’t stop to problem-solve now. Frame the question to be deliberated upon in a different session. You want to address: • What were the challenges/ concerns/issues? • What didn’t work so well? • What didn’t work at all?


Find the Opportunities Based on the first two steps, what are some future possibilities? • Do you see any new ideas or connections? • What pluses or challenges require time to generate ideas? • What unique connections can be taken forward in new ways?

14 x Southern Theatre x Spring 2019

Horth’s process has developed from two

Continuing with the real-world example

A final key tenet in Horth’s work is con-

“The conscious practice of including all

mentioned above, a challenge with conven-

organizations, she says.

tion workshops was solved through this

“The value of creative leadership is in

process: Workshops were scheduled too

integrating theory into ‘practice,’ which

soon after each other. As a result, programs

demands a continual process of openness,

started late and even later as the day pro-

commitment from others, and a willingness

gressed. Presenters’ challenge: How to have

to explore what can happen,” Horth says.

more time to set up? Attendees’ challenge:

“When you balance that with the concrete

How might I get to a session that is in an-

principles of running a business, anything

other building? The solution, Horth notes,

is possible.” n

was threefold: “Increase time between sessions from 10 minutes to 15 minutes; keep similar programming in a designated area of meeting rooms; and consistently schedule presenters who need audio-visual aids in the same room, lessening set-up time.

Kim Doty, the communications specialist in the SETC Central Office, earned an undergraduate degree from Indiana University Bloomington, where she studied English, journalism and studio art.

MURIEL MIGUEL Tell Stories That Are Important to You

Caitie McMekin

SETC Distinguished


by Gaye Jeffers

Career Award

Native families had left their homelands and the reservations and come to New York City. Some had

Standing before a keynote audience at the SETC

found work performing in Wild West shows and were

Convention in Knoxville, Muriel Miguel played her

left stranded, with no way to return to their homes.

favorite role: storyteller. Starting from her childhood

They carried their history with them, the power of

days as an outcast “city Indian,” she recounted the

the past informing much of life in the present. The

twists and turns that led her to become part of the avant-garde theatre movement of the 1960s and later to found Spiderwoman Theater, the longest-running

Muriel Miguel: Bio and Career Highlights

feminist Native American theatre company in North America. Miguel made it clear that, at 81, she remains passionate about making theatre – and weaving tales that make a difference. Throughout her life, she has been drawn most strongly to two causes that remain her focus today: feminism and the marginalization of Native Americans, especially women. Her latest work, Misdemeanor Dream, explores the Native tricksters and spirits that exist in the stories and daily lives of indigenous people. In September, Miguel will travel to Ottawa, Canada, to direct The Unnatural and Accidental Women, a play by Marie Clements, at the National Arts Centre.

“The play is about the disappearance and murder

of indigenous women in Vancouver,” she said. “It’s based on real events and reminds us that everyone has to watch over everyone else.”

Her lifetime of work as a trail-blazing storyteller,

director, choreographer, playwright, actor, dancer and educator who worked with some of the major figures in theatre – and became one herself – earned her recognition as SETC’s 2019 Distinguished Career Award winner. In her Saturday keynote address and in an interview with Southern Theatre, she described the path she followed, which started in her native Brooklyn, NY. Embracing Native Culture

A driving force in all of Miguel’s work is her heri-

tage. Born in 1937, she is the youngest of three sisters in a Native American family that was committed to place and community. She grew up curious and remains a studious and vocal observer of a changing world. Her father was a Kuna from islands called Kuna Yala, off the coast of Panama, and her mother was a member of the Rappahannock tribe of Virginia. A self-described “city Indian," Muriel was raised in a family rich in tradition, with a heritage based in storytelling, Native American dance and song.

Miguel grew up in a time when the government

forbade ceremonial rights for Native people. Many

THEATRE CREDITS: Founding Member/Artistic Director, Spiderwoman Theater Original member, Joseph Chaikin’s Open Theater SELECTED PLAYWRITING CREDITS: Sun, Moon, and Feather; Power Pipes; Winnetous Snake Oil Show from Wigwam City; Reverb-ber-ber-rations; Trail of the Otter; Red Mother

Muriel Miguel with SETC’s Distinguished Career Award.

SELECTED DIRECTING/ CHOREOGRAPHY CREDITS: Fear of Oatmeal, Spiderwoman Theater Throw Away Kids, Aboriginal Dance Program, Banff Centre She Knew She Was She, Aboriginal Dance Program, Banff Centre Material Witness, Spiderwoman Theater and Aanmitaagzi Evening in Paris, Raven Spirit Dance Company Women in Violence, Spiderwoman Theater Misdemeanor Dream, Abrons Art Center SELECTED ACTING CREDITS: Spirit Woman, BONES: An Aboriginal Dance Opera, Banff Centre Red Mother, One-Woman Show, Museum of the American Indian Terminal, Open Theater Viet Rock, Open Theater

TEACHING CREDITS: Assistant Professor of Drama, Bard College; Centre for Indigenous Theatre, Toronto; Aboriginal Arts Program, Banff Center for the Arts SELECTED HONORS: 2018 Doris Duke Artist 2016 John S. Guggenheim Foundation Fellow 2015 Rauschenberg Residency Honorary Doctorate, Fine Arts, Miami University, Oxford, OH Lifetime Achievement Award, Women’s Caucus for Art Otto Rene Castillo Award for Political Theatre Member, National Theatre Conference Honoring the Spirit Award for Arts and Entertainment, American Indian Community House More info:

Spring 2019 x Southern Theatre x 17

refused to accept the notion that their culture was dead, the children were chastised by their teachers. “We all got in trouble for speaking out,” she recalled.

The children met in a church basement and per-

formed the songs and dances of their culture. With The Advertiser/Sunday Mail, Adelaide

the support of their families, the Little Eagles visited schools, performing songs and dances, proving that Native culture was decidedly not dead, but was in fact flourishing in the middle of Brooklyn. The Little Eagles transformed over a period of years into the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers, a troupe that continues to perform nationally and internationally.

While Miguel connected to the past through the

Little Eagles, her older sisters, Gloria and Lisa, encouraged her to be more “cultured.” To Miguel, this meant embracing more “white” culture. She listened to her sisters, who often served as second mothers, and suffered through a series of piano and dance lessons, including ballet. Drawn to modern dance instead of ballet, Miguel studied and performed throughout her teenage years. After being turned down to study at Juilliard in 1960, she found her way to the Henry Street Playhouse, a performing arts center on the Lower East Side of Manhattan (now the Abrons Arts Center).

Miguel’s dance training at the Henry Street Play-

house placed her in the middle of the avant-garde performance scene of the 1960s. She studied with Alwin Nikolais, known for his abstract style of dance Top: Sisters Lisa Mayo, Gloria Miguel and Muriel Miguel appear in Reverb-ber-ber-rations, a play about growing up in Native American culture, in 1994 at the International Women`s Playwrights Festival in Adelaide, Australia. Bottom: Pam Verge, Lisa Mayo and Lois Weaver appear in Women in Violence in Amsterdam, Holland, in 1977. At right is a poster for the show’s performance that year in Brussels, Belgium.

Native Americans who came together as a community

as motion, and Lynn Laredo, who focused on the theo-

in Brooklyn shared their histories and taught each

ries and techniques of Rudolf von Laban. She kept her

other stories from their pasts. As Miguel noted in her

Native dance separate from the modern dance that

keynote address, “And that’s how we began.”

she was learning, not quite free to allow the forms to

“Most of our families came from what we always

mix. For Miguel, there was still something missing.

referred to as ‘Indian Showbiz,’ which meant that

“I always felt like I was swimming upstream while

you and your family did the advertisements for the

everybody else was going downstream,” she said. “I

cowboy and Indian shows, for the Pontiac car, for

found myself still searching.”

anything that sounded Indian,” Miguel said.

Finding a Home with Open Theater

Her father often performed the ballyhooing in

front of movie theatres, encouraging passersby to

forming called the Open Theater. It was spearheaded

purchase tickets. Watching her father perform ignited

by Joseph Chaikin, who had recently left the Living

a passion for history and dance in Miguel.

Theatre. Building on his interest in improvisation,

Her Performance Career Begins at 12

imagination and the theories of Jerzy Grotowski,

In elementary school in Brooklyn, Native Ameri-

Chaikin wanted the actors to be able to move and

can children were taught that their culture was dead.

work with their bodies in ways that current train-

After hearing this from her teachers, Miguel felt called

ing was not providing. He met Lynn Laredo, who

to challenge this assumption and prove them wrong.

offered to bring some of her Laban-trained dancers

In 1949, 12-year-old Muriel and her friend Louis

to his group to demonstrate. Miguel was one of those

Mofsie formed the Little Eagles, a group of children


who met to embrace Native traditions. Because they

“When I got to the Open Theater, I was like,

18 x Southern Theatre x Spring 2019

In 1962, a new experimental theatre ensemble was

‘Whew, I understand this,’ ” Miguel said.

She was invited to join the Open Theater and

became one of its original members, along with Sam Shepard, Megan Terry, Peter Feldman and Chaikin. Miguel worked with the Open Theater throughout the 1960s, taking her young child with her as the company toured Europe. The type of storytelling that Chaikin was exploring was the type of storytelling that Miguel had been exposed to all of her life. She recognized how to mix her Native roots and her current perforCarey Lovelace

mance techniques. She appeared in groundbreaking productions of Megan Terry’s Viet Rock, Jean-Claude van Itallie’s The Serpent and Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi. Creating Her Own Feminist Work

In the early 1970s, Miguel decided to strike out on her own in order to grow and explore her own approach to theatre and tackle issues that she felt

from two sides of matriarchs. Women were doing all

were pressing.

of the work, and men were taking all of the credit. I

“When I left Open Theater, a number of things

decided I wanted to work with women.”

were happening,” she said. “It was the beginning of

Miguel gathered women of all ages and back-

feminism in the United States. Gloria Steinem was

grounds. “I was only thinking of women – I wasn’t

working like mad. I really felt that I had to say some-

thinking of Native women at this time – only women.

thing. I had to do something. I was getting angrier and

All women. So I did workshops around Manhattan.” (Continued on Page 22)

angrier because of how women were treated. I come

Muriel Miguel portrays Belle in Red Mother, a show she wrote that weaves Brechtian themes with demon tales, at La MaMa Theater in New York in 2010.



Spring 2019 x Southern Theatre x 19

Celebrating SETC’s This was the final SETC Convention for outgoing Executive Director Betsey Horth, shown above after President Jeff Gibson inducted her into the SETC Hall of Fame at Saturday’s business meeting. On these pages, we revisit scenes from the 70th annual convention in Knoxville, TN, which was attended managers, teachers, students and volunteers. The convention provided members with an opportunity to audition, find a job, perform, hear keynote speakers, learn new techniques, network, view exhibits, hire employees, watch top-notch theatre and much more.

Photos by Caitie McMekin 20 x Southern Theatre x Spring 2019

David Hawkins

by 5,056 theatre artists,

70th in Knoxville

Spring 2019 x Southern Theatre x 21

(Continued from Page 19)

really the beginning of how I looked at story weav-

Story Weaving: Three Become One


Working with women from diverse backgrounds

Story weaving – the process of crafting several

and experiences, Miguel began to think about story-

stories into one unified performance – soon became

telling in terms of sound and movement, moments

the hallmark of Miguel’s style.

and breaths.

Spiderwoman Theater

“I had listened to stories all my life,” she said. “I

Miguel’s collaborations with women marked the

realized that there’s no beginning and no end for a

beginning of Spiderwoman Theater. Miguel founded

lot of our stories. That you can start in the middle,

the company in 1975 with Lois Weaver, Pam Verge,

you can start at the end. But it all somehow comes

and Miguel’s two sisters, Lisa Mayo and Gloria

around to the same thing – an understanding.”

Miguel. Spiderwoman’s first production, Women in

Violence, premiered at New York City’s Washington

Miguel asked two women, Lois Weaver (later of

Split Britches) and Josephine Mofsie Tarrant, Hopi/

Street Methodist Church in 1976.

Hochunk storyteller, for personal stories. Each

woman had a different story: Weaver’s story involved

of El Teatro Camposino Theatre, Spiderwoman was

a dream she had of making love to Jesus. Miguel’s

invited to perform Women in Violence at Le Festival

story was inspired by the Sun Dance ceremony and a

Mondiale du Theatre in Nancy, France, in 1977. This

conversation she had with a butterfly. Tarrant’s story

world theatre festival welcomed avant-garde artists

was about the Spider Woman, a figure in the Hopi

from around the world. Spiderwoman held a benefit

tradition that teaches people how to weave.

at The Public Theater and with the backing and sup-

On the recommendation of Luis Valdez, founder

port of Ellen Stewart, founder and director of Café La MaMa, raised money to make the trip to France. “Ellen was really like a mother,” Miguel said. “I met her when I was like 18 or 19. She was part of my world.” The expression of violence in Women in Violence polarized the festival attendees, with some women denying there was a problem while others embraced Spiderwoman’s message. The performance opened a floodgate for women to experience theatre that was about them. Women approached Miguel and shared stories of workplace harassment and being ignored by local police when reporting abuse.

“A woman came up to me after the show one night

Caitie McMekin

and said that she was beaten up,” Miguel recalled. Spurred on by Women in Violence, women at the festival and all around Nancy, along with Spiderwoman, demonstrated at the police department to demand that reports about abuse and harassment SETC’s 2019 KEAP Award winners (back, left to right) Mary Fran Healey, Damian Bowden, Naomi Kapusinski and Diane Snoddy have the opportunity to meet and pose for a photo with Miguel after her SETC keynote presentation.

Realizing that all three stories centered on the idea

be addressed and acknowledged. The demonstration

of creation, Miguel experimented with how the stories

was covered in newspapers in France and America.

could converge.

Women in Violence connected with women in different

“And then we started to talk about things like

countries who spoke different languages. A seed was

breath, and then we started talking about the weight

planted in Miguel.

– the weight of a word and where does the weight

“I realized how important it was to talk, how

come from and what is the word,” Miguel said.

important it was to listen,” she said.

“So, we worked with that, and at times all three

Miguel continued to work on issues affecting

of us would say the same word. Now, these are

women. Thinking back to her own family, she remem-

three different stories, but they’re all the same.

bered secrets kept by her parents and sisters and how

They all have the same core. Creation. And that was

detrimental they were to the idea of healing.

22 x Southern Theatre x Spring 2019

“If we can only get past secrets and realize that to

just say, ‘Yes, that happened,’ can bring about some kind of resolution,” she said. “The whole idea of shining the light on a secret. I mean, where does the poison start? Let’s take the flashlight, let’s take the light, and let’s shine it and expose it.” At a time when issues regarding the care, support

Photos by Walesca Ambroise

and education of children were making headlines around the country, Miguel focused on the plight of Native children: children being killed, children being “thrown away.” Native American history includes stories of children in the U.S. being taken from their parents and sent to boarding schools to be indoctrinated into American culture. Native women shared personal stories of being separated from their parents. Mothers told stories about the feelings of emptiness

Fear of Oatmeal, a play written by Muriel Miguel which premiered in June 2018 at Theatre for the New City in New York, features (above, left to right) Soni Moreno, Joe Cross, Gloria Miguel (seated) and Sheldon Raymore. At left, Soni Moreno portrays Nita Matariki in Fear of Oatmeal.

after giving birth. Spiderwoman developed a play called Throw Away Kids that addressed the ties between mothers and children in all derivations. From Miguel’s point of view, processing the pain of the past through plays such as this helps clear the way for progress. As theatre and performance groups around the world recognized the need for the marginalized voices of indigenous people to be heard, Miguel became a leader in the movement, convinced that creating and listening to stories is a way to have a conversation about issues. She was invited to the Aboriginal Brecht Project at the Aboriginal Arts Program at the Banff Centre in Canada. The project, Justice, looked

same obstacles that others endured 40 years ago. “We

at using Brecht to explore the subject of justice from

were in the same place,” she said. “Women were still

an indigenous point of view. Working with original

being raped. Women were disappearing and being

Berliner Ensemble member Uta Birnbaum, Miguel

murdered. Nothing has changed for Native women.”

was inspired to create a piece based on Bertolt Brecht’s

Mother Courage and Her Children. The piece that she

that reaches out on a personal level, addressing the

developed, Red Mother, was workshopped in 2007

wounds that need to be healed in a society or com-

and was presented by many organizations, including

munity – and inspiring women to tell the stories that

the Museum of the American Indian in Washington,

are important to them.

DC, as part of its Native Expressions Series in 2008.

“More women are talking, and that’s what’s

Miguel remains committed to producing theatre

“I wanted to dedicate it to all Native mothers that

important,” Miguel says. “That’s what’s important to

people said failed: the whores, the drug addicts, the

me. It’s important to tell your stories. It’s important to

women who ran away and left the children with the

tell your stories to everyone. It’s important to look in

grandmother,” Miguel said.

yourself – inside yourself. And it’s important to sing

Continuing to Tell Stories

those songs or dance those dances.” n

More than 40 years after the theatre began, Spiderwoman’s first performance piece, Women in Violence, continues to develop and shift in response to current affairs. The latest incarnation, called Material Witness, is a response to Miguel’s realization that today’s Native American women face many of the

Gaye Jeffers is a professor of directing, theatre history and playwriting at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She has worked with the Goodman Theatre, Chicago Dramatists and Victory Gardens Theatre.

Spring 2019 x Southern Theatre x 23


Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Work

Caitie McMekin


by Amy Cuomo

As a storyteller, playwright, teacher and full-time mom, Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder lives by a credo a teacher shared decades ago.

“I was in geometry class, paralyzed by fear that I was going to fail a test I had worked hard to prepare for,

and desperately trying to catch a glimpse of the test beside me,” Wilder told her Friday keynote audience at the 2019 SETC Convention. “The teacher walked by and, without anger or judgment, simply whispered in my ear, ‘Keep your eyes on your own work.’ I turned in the finished test. My teacher placed her hand on mine and said, ‘Trust your own work.’ ”

Above: Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder speaks to a large crowd at her Friday SETC Convention keynote.

Like most excellent advice, it immediately rings true, but is not necessarily easy to follow in real life. Years

later, Wilder recalled, she found herself at a high point in her career. She had graduated from New York University (NYU) with an MFA in dramatic writing, had scored a major production of one of her plays, Fresh Kills, at London’s Royal Court Theatre, and was working as a writer for a television show in Los Angeles. From the outside, it looked like she was living the dream. However, on the inside, she was comparing herself to others and worrying about a lack of external recognition. And that, Wilder said, “robbed me of the opportunity to

24 x Southern Theatre x Spring 2019

SETC Friday Keynote Speaker

celebrate my own success.” It was then that she heard

theatre. It far surpassed all our expectations at the box

it again: “ ’Keep your eyes on your own work.’ This

office. And the thing that I loved most is it brought

time,” Wilder said, “it came from my mother. I didn’t

people who had never been to the theatre before,

realize it then, but I would hear that gentle reminder

and they were blown away by the story, and some of

time and time again, and it applies to every aspect of

them bought tickets to come back.” He highlighted

our life: to parenting, to relationships, to our work.”

Wilder’s ability to “create essential Southern stories”

For Wilder, keeping “your eyes on your own

and said, “I celebrate her work because it reconfirms

work” has led to success in writing plays such as Gee’s

that the characters of our region are more than

Bend, Furniture Home, The Flagmaker of Market Street,

stereotypes, and their stories deserve to be told and

Everything That’s Beautiful, The Bone Orchard and White

seen on stages across America and throughout the

Lightning, with characters and stories that carry her


own unique stamp as a playwright.

From the South to New York

In introducing Wilder at her SETC Convention

While many of her stories are set in the South,

keynote, Preston Lane, artistic director of Triad Stage

Wilder’s work transcends borders, taking its place

in Greensboro, NC, noted the success of his theatre’s

in a larger, national narrative. She creates characters,

recent production of Wilder’s play White Lightning,

both Southern and not, who are compelling and touch

about moonshining and the evolution of NASCAR,

our hearts – an accomplishment that no doubt derives

which he said “brought brand-new audiences to my

in part from her roots in Mobile, AL.

Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder: Bio and Career Highlights EDUCATION: BA, Women’s Studies, Purchase College, Purchase, NY MFA, Dramatic Writing, New York University (Tisch Dramatic Writing Fellow) COMMISSIONS: Looks Like Pretty, Sloan Foundation/Geva Theatre That I Know Is True, Baltimore Center Stage White Lightning, Alabama Shakespeare Festival The Bone Orchard, Denver Center Theatre Gee’s Bend, Alabama Shakespeare Festival The Furniture of Home, Alabama Shakespeare Festival The Flag Maker of Market Street, Alabama Shakespeare Festival SELECTED PRODUCTIONS: Santa Doesn’t Come to the Holiday Inn, Ensemble Studio Theatre Everything That’s Beautiful, New Conservatory Theatre Provenance, B Street Theatre The Flag Maker of Market Street, Alabama Shakespeare Festival Gee’s Bend (partial list), Hartford Stage, Denver Center Theatre, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Arden Theatre Fresh Kills, Royal Court Theatre, London

When Wilder was a young aspiring writer, she approached playwright Wendy Wasserstein for advice. Wasserstein advised her to ‘go home and write a play.’ Wilder did just that. ‘Sometimes that’s all it takes, just one person telling you that you have the ability to do something,’ she said.

TEACHING POSITIONS: Alabama Shakespeare Festival Playwright-in-Residence Tennessee Williams Playwright-in-Residence, Sewanee: The University of the South, Sewanee, TN Visiting Assistant Professor, Sewanee: The University of the South, Sewanee, TN HONORS: Osborn Award, American Theatre Critics Association More information:

Spring 2019 x Southern Theatre x 25

City. Her career as a writer had yet to begin. “I knew that people wrote plays, but as far as I could tell, you had to be an old white guy,” she told her keynote audience. “But then I saw Madeleine George’s play The Most Massive Woman Wins, a play written by a young woman my age.” After the show, she spied playwright Wendy Wasserstein in the lobby, and, according to Wilder, “held her hostage while I spewed forth my entire life’s story.” Wasserstein’s response changed her life. She told Wilder to “go home and write a play.” Wilder did just that. “Sometimes that’s all it takes, just one person telling you that you have Stephen Poff

the ability to do something,” she said. She wrote her first play, and then she wrote another. She took a playwriting class at Purchase College. Her first full-length play, Tales of an Adolescent Fruit Fly, received a reading in New York, with a Wilder’s play White Lightning, about the moonshining origins of NASCAR, was commissioned by Alabama Shakespeare Festival, where it premiered in 2016. Above, Becca Ballenger and Matthew Goodrich appear in the ASF production. The play also was presented in February 2019 at Triad Stage (see cover photo) in Greensboro, NC.

“I grew up in the South, and in the South, we tell

Tony Award nominee participating. “When I heard

stories,” she says.

the audience laugh for the first time, I knew I’d found

During her childhood, Wilder learned the art

my place,” she said. “When I graduated from college,

of storytelling by listening to her grandmother.

it was produced by a fledgling theatre company in a

As a child, she came to see the world through a story-

little black box theatre one floor above a strip club on

teller’s eyes – and became interested in theatre. After

42nd Street. And at that moment in my life, I couldn’t

winning a role as a Lost Boy in Alabama Shakespeare

think of anything better.”

Festival’s production of Peter Pan at 15, she worked

Finding Your Tribe

at a frozen yogurt shop to save money to go to New

York. And, one month before she turned 17, the sum-

club, Wilder also found what she needed to move her

mer after high school graduation, Wilder traveled to

career forward: people who would support her and

New York – a trip that changed her life. She stayed at

her work. They were a group of six women who met

the Markle Evangeline Residence for Women, which

monthly to discuss, as Wilder put it, “relationships

provided meals and clean linens, and barred admit-

and auditions and grad school and breakups, and

tance to men under 65 years of age. She recalls that

we arrived en masse to support one another’s artistic

she lived with actors, dancers, law students and “four

endeavors. Smart, talented, funny and kind, these

Russian prostitutes who we only saw at breakfast.”

women taught me what it meant to be a friend.”

In that same little black box theatre above a strip

It was from this home away from home that she

Later, Wilder, who had returned to school to

experienced theatre and the city. She got a job with

earn an MFA in dramatic writing from NYU, again

the Shubert organization, serving as an usher for

found a tribe of artists who valued her work and

productions in New York – work she continued off

would foster her career. She became a member of

and on for the next decade. Wilder described it as “the

Youngblood, Ensemble Studio Theatre’s collective

perfect job because I got to see all of the shows that

for emerging professional writers under 30, which

I otherwise couldn’t afford to see … I also got to see

provides artistic guidance, peer support, feedback

every new production in the fall and the spring – the

and production opportunities. “What I learned in the

rage of Philip Seymour Hoffman in Long Day’s Journey

darkness of those Broadway theatres I refined while I

into Night, Cherry Jones’ seamless descent down the

was in Youngblood,” she said. She credits the program

stairs in The Heiress, Bernadette Peters’ showstopping

– which included playwrights such as Christopher

“Rose’s Turn” in Gypsy, not to mention the new plays

Shinn, Amy Herzog, Qui Nguyen and Leah Nanako

like I Am My Own Wife, Topdog/Underdog and Anna in

Winkler – with sharpening her skills as a theatre artist.

the Tropics.”

In addition to providing staged readings, Youngblood

A year after moving to New York, Wilder started

reinforced the fact that theatre is collaborative. Wilder

school at Purchase College, just north of New York

and her fellow artists “ushered for shows. We put up

26 x Southern Theatre x Spring 2019

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76 Ninth Avenue, Suite 537, New York, NY 10011

Phil Scarsbrook

Gee’s Bend, featuring Roslyn Ruff and Billy Eugene Jones (above), premiered at Alabama Shakespeare Festival in 2007 and earned Wilder critical acclaim.

posters in coffee shops and asked family

critics. In doing her research for the play,

members to donate money,” she recalled.

Wilder went to Gee’s Bend. She describes

“We swept floors, took tickets, ran lights …

it as another great lesson in her playwriting

We were a motley crew of young writers all

career: “On my first visit to Gee’s Bend, I sat

working multiple jobs while trying to make

in the living room of Mary Lee Bendolph,

theatre and hone our craft.”

listening to the women tell stories and

Coming Home

patiently answering my questions. I knew

In 2004, Wilder received an offer that

that they were trusting me with their story,

would prove pivotal in her life and her

and I had a duty to get it right. As I left that

career. The Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s

night, I thanked the women, and Mary Lee

Southern Writer’s Project commissioned

took my hand, and she said, ‘Just write

her to write Gee’s Bend, a play about a

it honest.’ I wrote that on a slip of paper

group of women who live in the hamlet

and taped it to my computer: ‘Just write it

of Gee’s Bend in Alabama and are known

honest.’ Great advice and words that every

for carrying on a tradition of quilt making

young writer should live by.”

that began in the 19th century. The quilts,

and the women who have made them, have

response from critics, audiences and the-

garnered attention from historians and art

atres. After a staged reading in 2006 and its

Gee’s Bend received a strong positive

The Artist’s Journey

D v

rawing from her own experiences, Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder shared advice for aspiring playwrights and other artists on writing, work and life.

Be an active participant in your story.

She urged her audience to ask essential questions: “What are the stories that you want to tell? What is important to you? What is the reflection of the world that you see around you or the world that you envision?” As a playwriting teacher, Wilder works with students to craft their plays. She tells them that, “in order to tell a good story, something has to happen, and the thing that happens … is your plot.” She reminds writers that obstacles reveal character, both in life and on the stage. She has us ask ourselves, “Do you rise to the occasion or admit defeat? Are you gracious or jealous? Defiant or compliant? It’s through these obstacles that our moral compass is tested and our world view is defined.” For Wilder, the journey a character takes in a play is very much like the journeys we take in our own lives, and it is when we don’t trust the journey that we get into trouble. “We often become passive participants,” she said. “We frame our stories in terms of what was done to us … instead of saying, ‘This is what I’ve done.’ So, I ask you today, how can you be active participants in your own journeys?” v

Advocate for your work.

In addition to learning to write strong plays and get them produced, Wilder says it is essential to know how to advocate for your work. A friend once gifted her a small pocket knife, saying, “Every woman must learn when to be a pocket knife and when to be a butterfly.” Reflecting on the moment, she told the audience, “It’s an important lesson to learn. Inside each of us is a little bit of both: the pocket knife, which is strong and powerful and perhaps at times a little dangerous, and the butterfly, which is beautiful and graceful.” Standing up for your own work isn’t always easy. Wilder notes that a major challenge can be “knowing how to advocate for your own work while also being supportive of our collaborators’ vision and process.” v

If you are a parent, embrace your dual role as a parent and an artist.

Initially, Wilder was reluctant to bring up the fact she had a daughter when she worked with new theatre companies. She didn’t want theatres to believe she would be distracted from the job, so she didn’t want to ask for what she needed. But, she found, “the more we pretend like artists aren’t parents, that we don’t ask for what we need to make it work, then the greater the problem becomes.” When theatres embraced the fact that she is a mother, Wilder said, true collaboration resulted. - Amy Cuomo 28 x Southern Theatre x Spring 2019

premiere in 2007 at Alabama Shakespeare

– which was the start of a long-term rela-

Festival, followed by productions at other

tionship. For the last seven years, she has

theatres, Wilder was selected for a presti-

served as either a visiting assistant profes-

gious honor in 2008 – the Osborn Award,

sor or the university’s Tennessee Williams

given to an emerging playwright by the

Playwright-in-Residence, teaching and

American Theatre Critics Association.

guiding students while also writing plays.

Defining Your Own Success

Meanwhile, Wilder had left Los Angeles

– where she had been living and working as

Wilder acknowledges that “keeping

a writer for CBS – when the two TV shows

your eyes on your own work” is a constant

that she was working on were canceled

challenge. She still worries if her writing is

amid a writer’s strike. She had returned to

“commercial enough or relevant enough,”

Alabama, planning to pursue a playwriting

or if the next opportunity will come at all,

career as she waited for the strike to end.

but she was quick to remind her SETC audi-

Then she fell in love, married and had a

ence that “the most compelling characters

child – and stopped writing.

in the stories we tell are those that are

“Somewhere in all of that, I had lost

flawed and imperfect just like we are.”

myself,” she said. “One day, when my

While she encouraged her SETC audi-

daughter was still an infant, I was wear-

ence to define success on its own terms, she

ing a purple velour tracksuit for what was

also noted that “keeping your eyes on your

probably the third day in a row … when my

own work doesn’t mean that you should

daughter projectile vomited over one foot

ignore the work of others. You still need to

and our aging cat puked on the other. And I

read plays and see plays … Just don’t let

burst into tears, and I cried out, ‘I used to go

their success overshadow your own.”

to really cool parties with famous people.’

But the only ones who were there to hear

what success looks like at this point in her

it were the baby and the cat, and they were

career: “I teach something I love to students

not impressed.”

I enjoy. I have a job that celebrates my

Dealing with the realization that her

work as a writer while allowing me to be

marriage was a “disaster,” Wilder couldn’t

the parent I want to be. I have a kid who

turn for advice to the person who had for

is smart, creative, inquisitive and funny. I

years been her confidante and her guide –

have a charming man in my life, and once

her mother, who had died four years earlier.

a week we drive to the Starbucks halfway

But as she struggled to get back on track,

between where we each live and have tea,

Wilder remembered the last days with her

and every night he asks about my day, and

mother. “I was there with her when she

for now that’s enough. There are theatres

died,” Wilder said. “Her last words were,

who believe in my writing enough to invest

quite fittingly, ‘I wanna get off my ass.’ …

their time and their resources into produc-

As I laid in bed with my daughter won-

ing my work. I have a world premiere be-

dering what to do next, I thought of those

ing produced next season and new plays

words, her last piece of motherly advice,

waiting to be written. I own a house and

and I thought, ‘I wanna get off my ass.’ So

a car, and I go on great adventures with

that’s what I did.”

my daughter. And I am here with you, my

Wilder wrote her way out of a tough

fellow travelers, artists, storytellers and

situation. She created The Chat and Chew

creatives – and my heart’s full.” n

Supper Club, an interactive one-woman show that brought the playwright together with an audience interested in hearing her personal story. Shortly after, she was offered a year-long playwriting fellowship at Sewanee: The University of the South

At the end of her keynote, Wilder shared

Amy Cuomo is a professor of theatre at the University of West Georgia. Her short plays have been produced in several states and her play Happy was a finalist for the Heideman Award. Spring 2019 x Southern Theatre x 29

LEVI KREIS Embrace What Makes You Different

Caitie McMekin


b y To m D e T i t t a

Just a stone’s throw from the rural Appalachian town where he grew up, actor-singer Levi Kreis captivated an SETC keynote audience in Knoxville with the story of the long and winding road he has followed, from teenage gospel singer and self-taught child prodigy pianist to Tony Award-winning Broadway actor and widely acclaimed composer. The message he shared at the 2019 SETC Convention articulated the discoveries he made along the way.

Above: Levi Kreis performs “Not While I’m Around” from Sweeney Todd, the song that sparked his love for musical theatre, during his Thursday SETC keynote.

“Own your corner of the world,” he advised his SETC audience. “What makes you different makes you a

commodity.” Choosing the Road

In Oliver Springs, TN, Levi Kreis’ corner of the world when he was a child, Sunday mornings meant load-

ing up the family station wagon and heading off to church. A few too many people piled into the ‘88 Buick Century for his grandmother’s tastes, and she didn’t hesitate to let the others know: “It’s so crowded in here, you can’t cuss a cat without getting hair in your mouth.”

30 x Southern Theatre x Spring 2019

After church, he fondly recalls having three generations of family gather around the kitchen table for Sunday

SETC Thursday Keynote Speaker

lunch, with the gospel songs that would influence his

By the time he was 12, Levi was touring with a

career still in his ears. In his ears, too – making their

Southern gospel band. When he was 14, his parents

way to his head – were the admonitions of the preacher

arranged for him to travel with family friend and

who made life simple enough: there was good and

famous rockabilly music star Brenda Lee. For most

there was evil, the narrow road and the broad road.

of his childhood, he had been composing classical

The only question was, which one were you going to

music. One day, his mother made a call to a university


in Nashville.

Life was familiar in the rural Appalachian foothills.

“I was 14, 15 maybe, and she held the phone over

You’d have to drive 30 miles to Knoxville to find a

the piano while a professor at Vanderbilt University

stranger. But one day, five-year-old Levi Kreis came

was on the other line, and she said, ‘You need to hear

home from his kindergarten graduation and began

this kid,’” said Kreis. “Because of that, Vanderbilt

spontaneously playing Edward Elgar’s Pomp and

University offered me a full scholarship for classical

Circumstance on his mother’s old piano, using both

piano as a sophomore in high school.”

hands while his brother pumped the pedals because

Kreis had been admitted to the prestigious pre-

he couldn’t reach them. Just like that, everything

college program at Vanderbilt’s Blair School of

define yourself?



Is it something

Levi Kreis: Bio and Career Highlights

‘What story are you choosing to

your mom said, something your

EDUCATION: Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music BA, Commercial Music, Belmont University Matt Newton Acting Studios, Warner Laughlin Acting Studios, Ellen Novak (on-camera technique)

dad said? Is it

SELECTED BROADWAY/OTHER THEATRE CREDITS: Million Dollar Quartet (Broadway), The Leading Men of Broadway (Broadway), Violet (Broadway revival), Smokey Joe’s Café (Arena Stage), Pump Boys and Dinettes (Village Theater), One Red Flower (North Shore Theatre, Village Theater), Rent (national tour)

you’ve had? . . .

SELECTED FILM CREDITS: Don’t Let Go (starring with Scott Wilson), Frailty (supporting with Matthew McConaughey), The Divide (starring with Perry King), A Very Sordid Wedding (starring with Dale Dickie), A Thousand Words (lead), Silencers (starring)

you and makes

SELECTED TV CREDITS: The Apprentice, The View, Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

can find five

DISCOLOGY: Liberated (2018), Broadway at the Keys (2017), Imagine Paradise (2013), Live at Joe’s Pub (2011), Where I Belong (2009), Bygones (2007), One of the Ones (2006)

life that make

based on the few failures that For every story that defines you small, I guarantee you stories in your you big.’

SELECTED TV SHOWS FEATURING HIS MUSICAL COMPOSITIONS: Sons of Anarchy, So You Think You Can Dance, The Vampire Diaries, Mob Wives, The Apprentice, Days of Our Lives, The Young and the Restless SELECTED AWARDS: 2010 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Million Dollar Quartet 2010 Outer Critics Award for Best Featured Actor, Million Dollar Quartet 2010 Drama League Award nomination, Million Dollar Quartet 2010 Jeff Award nomination, Million Dollar Quartet More Info:

Spring 2019 x Southern Theatre x 31

Sell tickets & classes, manage marketing & members, and everything in between.

32 x Southern Theatre x Spring 2019

“My grandmother and grandfather

difference makes me an abomination to

would drive me three hours to Nashville to

God. So, I decided in eighth grade that I

do my classes and be back home to be in bed

would start going to my girlfriend’s church

by midnight, every Monday and Thursday

because they had a program for people like

for three years,” Kreis said.

me. In eighth grade, behind my parents’

The highway miles paid off. By 2010,

back, I checked myself into what they call

Kreis was working on Broadway, where his

conversion therapy, and I had my sessions,

portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis in the musical

my workbooks, my textbooks, my support

Million Dollar Quartet earned him a Tony

groups all constantly telling me that funda-

Award and high praise from Lewis himself:

mentally I was broken. For six years I did

“He told me, ‘Son, lots of people have tried

this, right up until my first year of college.”

to play me. But you’re the best.’ ”

Over the years since then, Kreis has

tive Southern Baptist university in Nash-

continued to perform while also releasing

ville, he began looking at the scripture

five albums. His songs have been featured

different ways, wondering if a loving God

in The Vampire Diaries, Sons of Anarchy and

really detested him as much as he was

other primetime television shows. He has

made to believe. The articulation of these

appeared on Late Night with David Letter-

questions was seen as evidence of his

man, The View and Late Night with Jimmy

homosexuality and caused an uproar both

Fallon, to name a few. His career has been

in his academic life and in his profes-

one most aspiring actors/musicians/song-

sional career. At the time, he had already

writers could only dream of.

been signed to a lucrative gospel music

But the voices in his head that began


with the Sunday morning preacher – voices

“I was dropped from the record label,

of admonition that morphed into reproba-

released from school, outed to campus,

tion, which in turn instilled self-doubt and

and told that everything that I had worked

even self-loathing – would follow him

for and dreamed about was not going to

throughout his storybook career, each time

happen,” Kreis said. “That’s a really big

assuming a different message but always

‘no.’ Do you realize now how easy it would

with essentially the same critical and un-

be to define myself by that?”

forgiving voice. Each time, it felled him

New World of Musical Theatre


Looking to start over, he went to Los

However, each time, he arose from the

Angeles, bringing with him a heartfelt

largely self-inflicted trials and tribulations

desire to know onstage, and honestly em-

with a new and enlightened perspective

brace, the characters of musical theatre. In a

that allowed him to authentically move

land of skinny jeans and guarded personas,

forward with more passion and with more

he wore cowboy boots, Wrangler jeans and

confidence in who he was as an artist and as

a pearl-snap shirt. With an unapologetic

a person. It was that collective wisdom born

regional accent and a persona exuding East

of struggle that he shared in his convention

Tennessee friendly, once again, he was dif-


ferent from everybody else.

Damnation in Tennessee

The first battle he faced was the most

first audition, he was No. 169 in a cattle

fundamental and set the stage for future

call for the national tour of Rent. After five

struggles. Whatever deity his hometown

callbacks, he somehow managed to land

preacher was representing allegedly saw

one of the lead roles. His unimaginable

homosexuality as a journey down the broad

good fortune didn’t stop there.

road that led to eternal damnation.

“I knew at eight years old that I was

in a rockabilly family drama, Don’t Let Go,

different,” Kreis said. “I was told that that

that won several film festivals,” Kreis said.

As he settled into college at a conserva-

With no resume or headshot, at his very

“At my second audition, I got the lead

Caitie McMekin

Levi Kreis answers a question from an audience member after his keynote presentation.

“In my third audition, I was cast in the role

struggled with his sense of worth – and that

of Fenton Meeks in Bill Paxon’s directorial

unhinged his performance. He was fired a

debut, a movie called Frailty. My fourth

month-and-a-half into the contract for Rent.

audition was my very first musical that

Insecurity continued to dog him through

I workshopped from the ground up, all

his subsequent successes, even through

the way from Village Theatre in Seattle to

winning his Tony Award, which he hid in

Kennedy Center.”

the closet because he felt he wasn’t worthy

But then, that same voice in his head,

of it.

like the one that had caused him to cast

Secrets to Success

doubt on who he was as a person, called

into question who he was as an artist. He

insecurities again and again, Kreis was

looked around and saw his fellow cast

able to transcend that which attempted to

members in Rent with graduate degrees.

defeat him and learn from the experience.

“They weren’t afraid to display their

He shared “Secret No. 1” with the audience:

elitist attitude toward someone who they

Choose the story you want to define you.

felt honestly didn’t earn or deserve it, and

I remember letting that make me feel so

yourself?” he asked the audience. “Is it

small, and I let it eat away at me, feeling

something your mom said, something your

so incredibly insecure about what was raw

dad said? Is it based on the few failures that

instinct,” he said.

you’ve had? You get to choose what it is,

The key to achieving success in acting

because for every story that defines you and

– his own self-taught MFA program – was

makes you small, I guarantee you can find

simply this: “I understood that if I was

five stories in your life that make you big.”

creating a character, if I didn’t believe it,

The second secret he shared was also

nobody else would. I knew how to find the

based on embracing who you are in a

path to honesty.”

manner that helps you succeed in the


Even as he came to that realization, he

While others can fall victim to their own

“What story are you choosing to define

Spring 2019 x Southern Theatre x 33

Claiming His Corner of the World

though embracing a truer manifestation

a commodity,” he said. “How many times

The next challenging journey in Kreis’

of the love, goodness and charity at the

do we sit on the other side of that table with

life is reestablishing his place at the kitchen

core of the belief system that had been

producers who we think know everything.

table of his youth. In the past, the destruc-

perverted by the imperfect messenger of

We think that the casting directors are

tive voice in his head told him that to suc-

his youth.

omniscient, omnipresent, that they’re this

ceed as an artist, you have to live in a big

deity that is just waiting for us to be worthy

city and that nothing of merit comes out

believe that when we know better, we do

of that job. That’s so not true. We need to

of rural, out-of-the-way places like Oliver

better,” he said. “This is the hard part: I

spend less time worrying about being what

Springs, TN. But recently, Kreis made the

believe if I am going to believe in diversity,

we think they want us to be and instead

decision to leave New York, realizing that,

then I have to honor their journeys as well,

take the journey inside our own soul

for him, the opposite was true.

and for me it was about the commitment to

and understand our craft from the most

show back up at home; it was about learn-

“What makes you different makes you

“Nowadays, you can live anywhere and

“I believe most people are good, and I

authentic, honest perspective possible. “There was a period of time where I definitely hid who I was, where I’m from,”

‘I find so many people who are prone to addiction have this weird little

he continued, referring to his Eastern

genius, so that if they would turn their power toward themselves rather

Tennessee, Appalachian background.

than against themselves, the things they would accomplish would be

“Also, the big cities have their own judgments about my kind of people, that’s true.

out of this world.’

But it wasn’t until I owned who I was that I proved to other people that, I’m sorry, but

be an artist,” he said. “I might have been

y’all city folk can’t do country characters

home only three months last year, but you

Especially transcendent was the third

like a country actor can.”

can still do what you do anywhere. For me,

and final secret he shared with the audience

Along the way, one of the other pitfalls

coming back home was a personal decision

at his keynote address, the idea of artists let-

he had to navigate was the lure of drugs

because I felt like I wouldn’t like who I was

ting go of their egos and seeing themselves

and alcohol. He is now 10 years sober.

if I spent five more years in New York. I

as a medium.

ing to love when it wasn’t easy.”

felt like I was becoming jaded, guarded,

“Remember, please, that you are a

in the ground,” he said. “I am a firm believ-

cynical – and I valued my culture here.

conduit for something that is greater than

er that substance abuse is – I mean, whether

“I knew that becoming this cynical

yourself,” he said. “There’s truth in what

it’s overeating or drugs – an expression of

transplant from New York was not going

you’re doing, so your job is to find it, to

our lack of self-worth.”

to help me in my craft, especially once I

embody it, and to allow it to flow through

“I let my substance abuse run me deeply

Substance abuse would be tragic enough

realized what makes you different makes

you in that character. And I think as we

were it to only affect “drunks” and “drug-

you a commodity. Looking at a resume

grow, we surrender to that process.

gies” – those who fell through the cracks

for Southern characters and knowing that

“I’ve seen a lot of great performances

of society and whose only solace was the

people come to me for those roles, I don’t

that are very cerebral, very good, but I’ve

bottle, the line, the pill or the needle. But, as

want to lose that. If I stay rooted in that, I’m

only seen actors move a group of people

Kreis pointed out, substance abuse attacks

always going to do it better than the next

when they have gotten out of their own way

those with great talent and great potential,

New Yorker who thinks they can.”

and realized that what they are is a vessel,

completely undermining both.

During the question-and-answer

a conduit for something that is greater than

“I find so many people who are prone to

session following his talk, Kreis was

themselves, because art is not only activism,

addiction have this weird little genius, so

asked questions about his early life that

art is healing, art is love, art is the evolution

that if they would turn their power toward

he could have used as an opportunity

of our soul. If you don’t account for the soul

themselves rather than against themselves,

to speak poorly about, and avenge his

aspect of what you do, you’re not evolving

the things they would accomplish would be

treatment by, the people who had done

to the degree that is your potential.” n

out of this world,” he said.

him harm, whether they be those adhering

This tragedy is furthered by Heming-

to a certain brand of religious doctrine or

way-esque myths of the excesses of the

those who condescendingly mocked his

artistic lifestyle. “You have longevity when

regionalism or lack of academic credentials.

you realize that you do not have to suffer

But again and again, his message was

to make art,” Kreis said.

one of forgiveness and acceptance, as

34 x Southern Theatre x Spring 2019

Playwright and author Tom DeTitta creates human rights and historical theatre worldwide. His work – from Bulgaria to Cambodia, from Uniontown, PA, to Plains, GA – is at

Photos by Caitie McMekin

Esthere Strom, the chair of SETC's Exhibits Committee for the past seven years, reacts as she realizes she is this year's winner of the Suzanne Davis Award.

Strom is congratulated by outgoing SETC Executive Director Betsey Horth, who presented the award during SETC's 2019 SETC Convention awards banquet.

Strom, who recently left the job she has held for the last 14 years as sales manager for the Charlotte and Atlanta offices of Barbizon Lighting, poses with her award.

Esthere Strom Honored with SETC’s 2019 Suzanne M. Davis Memorial Award Award presentation by outgoing SETC Executive Director Betsey Horth


he Suzanne Davis Award honors an

When it comes to SETC, this individual

and love the South. This year’s recipient is

individual who has contributed to

bridges both professionals and academics,

one of those people who chose to embrace

theatre throughout the Southeast and, in

organizes in great detail with the Central

the South.

particular, to the Southeastern Theatre

Office team, and has masterfully danced

And, if you are still guessing, here is

Conference organization.

between management and business during

your final clue: I actually knew her 30 years

the annual convention since 2012.

ago, when she was a tech student at the

we have. Our intent is to tell you about this

And it is the most closely guarded secret

Our awardee this evening has been

college where I taught – but we both had

person without them knowing. Yes – they

instrumental in proposing innovative ideas

to land at SETC to know each other.

are here, and at some point, they will be

– new ways to look at the way we do things

It is my great honor to present the

asking themselves, “Is this me?” And then

– and more importantly, has helped SETC

Suzanne Davis Award to this most extra-

after a few more clues, it’s, “Oh, my good-

implement those ideas. We are also grateful

ordinary volunteer: Esthere Strom. n

ness – it is me!”

for the wide range of sponsorships that this

This year’s recipient works tirelessly

person helped initiate or sustain. These

within our field of theatre in a particular

sponsorships have connected our sponsors

area that is not considered overly glamor-

directly to you by providing networking

ous. This part of our business doesn’t make

opportunities, information and just plain

headlines, but without people like our


recipient, theatre as we know it would not

Almost everyone who attended the


convention this week benefited from

When it comes to representing theatre

this person’s insights and efforts. When

in the Southeast, the individual’s vehicles

you strolled through this area looking at

tell that story: the countless stops across

potential schools and really neat theatrical

the region; the meetings; the advocacy;

equipment, you were impacted by this

the desire to provide current information

individual’s efforts.

and assistance to those who are producing

theatre and events.

South. Others choose to live in, work in

Some people are lucky to be born in the

ABOUT THE AWARD This prestigious award was established following the death in 1964 of SETC member Suzanne Davis, costume designer for Unto These Hills and wife of SETC’s 10th president, Harry Davis. Alvin Cohen, then owner of Paramount Theatrical Supplies in New York, approached the SETC president and said he wanted to sponsor an annual award in Suzanne’s name to honor her, as well as an individual who had given outstanding service to SETC. The board accepted the offer, and the Suzanne Davis Award was born. Spring 2019 x Southern Theatre x 35

HOP ON THE CART Making Theatre the Oily Cart Way Kim Doty

Tim Webb (right) invites participants to explore a variety of sensory items, including bubbles, during the 2019 SETC Teachers Institute.

‘It’s almost like an approach to life. Nowadays we feel like we have no time to stop and stare. Busy, bombardment of the senses really, and I think we should take the time to be still, quiet, and listen.’ - Tim Webb, Founder/Artistic Director, Oily Cart


by W. R i l ey B r a e m

When you think about creating programs for children with autism,

Disorder (ASD) – known as Autism Spectrum Condition in the

you likely have a set idea of what will be needed: a regimented

U.K. On Saturday, additional convention attendees got a chance to

routine that remains constant, a commitment to providing clear

learn the techniques when Webb presented an abbreviated version

and concise instructions, and an environment that is devoid of too

of his presentation in a masterclass.

much sensory input. The last thing you probably would consider

Webb has been working with and creating theatre for young

is a program of multi-sensory interactive theatre. Sending young

people for almost 40 years. In 1981, Webb and fellow artists Claire

people who have sensory sensitivities into an environment that is

de Loon (head of design) and Max Reinhardt (music director)

meant to be interactive and to tap their senses on multiple levels

founded Oily Cart, a company in the United Kingdom that makes,

seems like it would be a horrible idea. But it might be just what

“all sorts of shows for all sorts of kids.” The work that Webb and

the doctor ordered, as British theatre maker Tim Webb and his Oily

the rest of the Oily Cart crew have done has made them highly

Cart theatre have discovered.

sought-after theatre artists. More and more theatre companies are

Participants in SETC’s 14 annual Teachers Institute on Wednes-

exploring work that is designed for people with ASD or other com-

day at the 2019 SETC Convention had the opportunity to learn in a

plex disabilities. When theatre companies research multi-sensory

daylong seminar about Webb’s unique approach to creating theatre

interactive theatre, one company – Oily Cart – seems to come up

for young people with complex disabilities or Autism Spectrum

most often. As a result, Webb and the rest of his team have worked


36 x Southern Theatre x Spring 2019

SETC Teachers Institute

around the world, sharing their unique style of theatre-making with artists who are eager to create work for young people that, in many ways, do not feel welcome in a traditional theatre setting.

Webb has worked with theatre companies in a number of coun-

tries, including Russia, Belgium and Japan. In the United States, he has worked with Trusty Sidekick and the Lincoln Center in New York in addition to the Chicago Children’s Theatre. Oily Cart has also worked in conjunction with TYA/UK and Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance to offer weeklong workshop intensives called “Dream: The Joy of Creating with Oily Cart,” where theatre artists from around the world travel to England to learn the Oily Caitie McMekin

Cart way of making theatre. The Philosophy and Tools of Oily Cart

Webb’s Teachers Institute and masterclass presentations at the

SETC Convention in Knoxville were abbreviated versions of the weeklong residency offered in the United Kingdom, but still packed with information and hands-on learning. His goal for the Teachers Institute, he said, was to open participants’ eyes to the possibilities

Tim Webb leads a masterclass at the 2019 SETC Convention.

Oily Cart’s techniques offer for use in their own theatres.

also explained participant agency, which emphasizes that audience

“I want people to believe that they can do this kind of thing

members can interact as little or as much as they wish during the

themselves,” he said in an interview. “Primarily, I’m interested in

theatrical experience. Social Stories™ and participant agency are

people doing more work for people on the autism spectrum, people

key elements in creating theatre for youth with ASD, he says.

with complex disabilities. I want them to feel that they could deal

with it. But then, secondly, I think I’d like people to think that these,

stand Oily Cart’s guiding principles:

let’s call them multi-sensory techniques, you can use them in other

To create theatre the Oily Cart way, theatres first need to under•

forms of theatre or in other forms of teaching.”

Always start with the audience. Make everything ageand interest-appropriate.

Artists started the daylong Teachers Institute by learning about

Understand multi-sensory theatre. Children need to use all

the history of Oily Cart and its philosophy for creating theatre.

their senses – sight, hearing, touch, smell and kinesthetic

Webb shared several examples of the Cart’s work, including videos


of their productions of Blue: An Installation, Pool Piece (which takes

Work should be up-close and interactive.

place in a hydrotherapy pool), Something in the Air (aerial theatre)

Explore different ways to communicate (singing, music,

and The Bounce (theatre on two trampolines). Webb discussed ideas such as using Social Stories™ to help prepare young people to make

talking, other nonverbal communication). •

their trip to the theatre. Social Stories™ are narratives, often with

for example, using a hand fan to simulate wind or misting scented water into the air.

pictures, that describe social interactions and expectations that are



specific to the situation those with ASD will be experiencing. He “Tim Webb’s workshop was delightful. Not only did we hear about his extensive theatre work, but we also got to experience his devising process in action. Rather than hear a lecture about engaging young people, we constructed and shared cocreated experience with each other. It has changed how I view the devising process.” - Andy Waldron, Assistant Professor, Fresno (CA) State University

Think of ways of touching without physically touching –

Keep it simple.

“Tim said something that really resonated with me: ‘Leave space for kids to have their voice.’ I feel that this is essential, not just in theatre but in education as well. Students should not need permission to react honestly to an educational experience, and I plan to establish that concept in my classroom as I grow as an educator.” - Kelsey Kott, Drama and English teacher, Indian Land High School, Fort Mill, SC

“My work with Tim gave me a fresh new perspective on how to approach theatre.” - J. Mark Rogers, Performing Arts Specialist, Loudoun County Public Schools, VA

Spring 2019 x Southern Theatre x 37

Essential Elements

Webb also shared Oily Cart’s Eight

Essential Elements:


the space, or creating YouTube videos that allow participants to learn what to expect or how the theatrical experience was created.

Multi-sensory. Involve all of the senses. Multi-sensory theatre requires

artists to create a 360-degree theatrical


Role of adults and families. Everyone in the space is significant. How

are parents, family and teachers involved?

experience. Companies also must know

What is the value of the experience for them?

what they want participants to get out of

Role of the performer. Not a teacher.

the theatrical experience.


Interactive. Theatres must stimulate, observe and respond to the reactions

of individual audience members, working one-on-one for sufficient time.


Preparation. Thought must be given


Not a therapist. We don’t have to

make anybody better – we just need to let them feel that the world is a better place.


Structure in performance: Part 1. Combine close-ups (work that is done

close to or one-on-one with participants)

to every aspect of the production.

and long-shots (work that is done from a

Many times multi-sensory interactive the-

distance). Pauses, silences and stillness will

atre events start before audience members

allow processing time. Give space for the

• Easy to assemble & disassemble set components

arrive at the theatre and continue after they

audience to intervene. This is slow theatre

have left. Ways that you can achieve this

in a frantic world.

See for yourself...

young people prior to the event, creating

McFeely’s helps set your stage • Strong & easy to drive screws


are by creating Social Stories™ that assist Air Locks, or entrance activities/environ-


Structure in performance: Part 2. Some moments are planned, while

others are allowed to develop organically.

ments that introduce the audience to ele-

The structure of the show should be a com-

ments of the environment before they enter

bination of arranged moments (like the

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Candidates > Employers: post jobs, search candidates, and view resumes

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> Job Candidates: find and apply to jobs, create and upload resumes, bookmark listings, and search employers

38 x Southern Theatre x Spring 2019

Riley Braem, director of theatre at Northwest High School in Clarksville, TN, also works as a teaching artist in the greater Nashville area. He is chair of SETC's Theatre for Youth Division.

Takeaways TEACHER

“I enjoyed the chance to play, create and collaborate with fellow theatre teachers at the Institute! We’re so busy in our own ‘silos’ all year long that we rarely get the chance to create with colleagues, and that was such a fun and creative experience!” - Maria Karres-Williams, Theatre Teacher, Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, Atlanta

“So much of theatre is based off of sight, and you don’t realize it fully until you close your eyes and try to perform a piece. Incorporating all of the senses can transform a show from a performance to an immersive experience.” - Adam Messenger, Professional Teaching Artist, West Virginia University Youth Theatre Academy

opening and closing of the show) that are


played to the whole audience, one-on-one

Wind chimes

work with individual audience members,


and processing time, commonly referred to

Small magician lights

as wait time in education, to allow partici-

Finger cymbals

pants to soak in and process the experience.


Adventures in time and space.

Various pieces of cloth material


Consider where a show should take

Fresh-cut herbs

place, how long it should it last, and why


you are doing it.

Fans (both paper and electric)

Hands-on Learning

Sea sponges

After a morning filled with theory, the

Baby shampoo

Teachers Institute participants were eager


to get on their feet and practice some of

Bowls of various sizes

the techniques that Webb had shared. To

Brushes (various size makeup)

Emergency foil blankets

get them thinking in a sensory way, he had participants pair up and go on a sensory

exploration of the space. Each person took

five or six and asked to devise a short

a turn as the navigator (the person leading

three- to five-minute piece of theatre. Each

their partner through the area) and the

group grabbed items from the table, spread

explorer (the person who had their eyes

out in the room and began to create their

closed). Participants were able to experi-

own experiences using Oily Cart’s guiding

ence the anxiety of the unknown, which

principles and essential elements. Seeing

is something important to consider when

participants’ energy as they rehearsed was

creating theatre for youth with complex

infectious. The energy continued to the

disabilities or ASD.

sharing portion of the day, as each group

Table of Sensory Items

presented its devised piece to the others.

Participants were split into groups of

One of the critical elements of multi-

Teachers felt rejuvenated and energized to

sensory interactive theatre is the use of

take the things that they had learned back

sensory items. As part of his presentation,

to their schools and communities. n

Webb provided a table filled with sensory items for participants to use in an exercise.

Items included: •

Spray bottles

Essential oils

Bamboo sticks

W. Riley Braem, director of theatre at Northwest High School in Clarksville, TN, also works as a teaching artist in the greater Nashville area. He is chair of SETC’s Theatre for Youth Division.

Theatre & Dance within the Liberal Arts

Highly Competitive Academically Rigorous Nationally Ranked

10 Reasons to study Theatre & Dance at Wake Forest! 1. Small, individualized classes, integrated with production and performance 2. Beginning to advanced study in all aspects of theatre 3. Opportunities to double major/minor 4. 4 major productions and 2 dance concerts yearly 5. Two well-equipped spaces: proscenium and thrust 6. Faculty and student directed productions; multiple student producing groups 7. Talent-based scholarships for performance and production 8. Both merit and need based financial aid 9. Funding opportunities for student projects, summer study and travel 10. Over 400 approved study abroad programs in 70 countries

For information contact: Department of Theatre and Dance P.O. Box 7264, Reynolda Station Winston-Salem, NC 27109 336-758-5294 ◆ Spring 2019 x Southern Theatre x 39

2019 SETC Young Scholars Award Winners GRADUATE WINNER: ALEX ATES Powerful Contradictions on Charged Stages: Theatre Revolutions in the Jim Crow South Alex Ates is a

American rural Southerner which explored

fears, hopes, dreams, failures and ideals of

second-year MFA

the South’s inherent political and social

an awakening American dream-and-night-

candidate and

contradictoriness, the Free Southern Theater

mare in dangerous places – precisely, they’d

teaching assistant

(FST) embodied and enlivened American

argue, what the theatre is for. The theatre’s

at the University

moral contradictoriness on stage, in real

deliberate reflectiveness is what gave it

of Alabama who

time, within unglamorous and dangerous

American power – so much so, it would

recently finished a

spaces. Freedom was always a literal and

provoke and intimidate the oppressors in

residency at Emer-

abstract principle for the FST – something

the Jim Crow South. This paper assesses the

son College. He is

logistical and economical but also constricted

FST’s life force through a prismatic consid-

also a member of Actors’ Equity and an

by the relentless stomp of Jim Crow rule. In

eration of political and artistic revolutions in

ensemble member of The NOLA Project.

the space and spirit of America’s deep South-

the global, national and regional theatre in

Abstract: Aiming to incept a definitive

ern gash, at the time of tremendous political

an effort to understand America’s place in

and indigenous theatre of the African

and social upheaval, the FST manifested the

theatre. n

UNDERGRADUATE WINNER: KENYA GADSDEN Color-Blind Casting: The Perpetuation of Black Invisibility in American Theatre Kenya Gadsden is

race change a production. To discuss the

theories presented in Paul Taylor’s book

a junior at the Col-

range of problems associated with color-

Black is Beautiful: A Philosophy of Black

lege of Charleston,

blind casting practices, this essay uses the

Aesthetics. n

where she is majoring in theatre and pursuing a minor in arts management. Her focus is on

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40 x Southern Theatre x Spring 2019

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