Southern Theatre, Vol. 62, Issue 3 - Fall 2021

Page 1

Volume LXII Number 3 • Fall 2021 • $8.00

THEATRE REIMAGINED Companies Innovate to Keep Art Alive During COVID

PANDEMIC PIVOTS Enterprising Theatre Artists Get Creative With Careers

MEMPHIS SPOTLIGHT Playback Theatre: Performing the Peace Harnessing the Power of Immigrant Stories

RWANDAN GENOCIDE Getchell-Winning Play Explores Overlooked Story


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Garrett Houston/Barter Theatre at the Moonlite Drive-In


Volume LXII Number 3 l Fall 2021 l Southern Theatre – Quarterly Magazine of the Southeastern Theatre Conference


8 Theatre Reimagined

Departments 4 Hot off the Press

Plays About Family Legacy

by Zackary Ross

6 Outside the Box: Design/Tech Solutions Turn a Pumpkin Into a Period Leg Brace (Without the Help of a Fairy Godmother) by Christina Johnson

56 Words, Words, Words … Review of How to Teach a Play: Essential Exercises for Popular Plays, edited by Miriam Chirico and Kelly Younger

Companies Innovate to Keep Art Alive During COVID by Stefanie Maiya Lehmann

22 Pandemic Pivots

Enterprising Theatre Artists Get Creative With Careers by Thomas Rodman and Keith Arthur Bolden

36 Memphis Spotlight

Two companies in SETC’s 2022 host city address hot-button topics – police relations and immigrant support – through theatre. 36 Performing the Peace: Police and Former Prisoners Use Playback Theatre to Build Trust in Their Community

by Holly L. Derr

44 From Where I Stand: Harnessing the Power of Immigrant Stories

by Taylor St. John

review by Thomas Chavira

2021 Charles M. Getchell Award


50 The Playwright

Sandi Stock portrays Regina, a self-righteous professor who is destroyed when a reporter uncovers a deep secret that she’s tried to keep hidden, in Blackfish by Aurin Squire, a play addressing the sin of sloth in Miami New Drama’s 7 Deadly Sins. This series of seven plays, presented behind the glass in empty storefronts to audience members seated outside wearing earbuds from Nov. 27, 2020 to Jan. 31, 2021, was the largest professional live theatre production in the U.S. during the pandemic and the winner of a Drama League Award. See more, Page 18. (Photo by Ernesto Sempoll; cover design by Deanna Thompson)

2021 Getchell Award Winner Angela J. Davis Explores the Overlooked Heroism of Rwanda’s One-Day Female President interview by Laura King

51 Charles M. Getchell Award: The Backstory Learn about the man behind the award. by Todd Wm. Ristau

52 The Play

Read an excerpt from AGATHE, the 2021 winner of the Charles M. Getchell New Play Award, given by SETC to recognize a worthy new play. Fall 2021 x Southern Theatre x 3

Plays About Family Legacy Our regular column on plays that have recently become available for licensing focuses in this issue on works that examine the relationships of parents and children. by Zackary Ross


ike many parents during the pandemic, I spent the last year working from home and overseeing my child’s virtual education. With my son’s kindergarten schoolwork consuming only about an hour and a half a day and all other outside-the-house activities on hold, he

and I spent considerably more time together than before. As the world begins to open and his experience broadens beyond his day-to-day existence at my side, I have been thinking about the lasting effect our time together will have and, on a bigger scale, the legacy that parents leave their children. What follows is a collection of plays that explore the concept of legacy and how our relationships with our kids are often dictated by the past. To develop the following list of suggested titles, we surveyed major play publishers’ offerings during recent months. Following each description, you’ll find information about the cast breakdown and a referral to the publisher who holds the rights. False Creeds, by Darren Canady When he receives a memory box full of photos and articles about the Tulsa race riots from his grandmother, Jason slowly comes to terms with his family’s tragic past. Seeing the riots through her eyes, Jason witnesses the unfolding of events as the young girl’s parents are swept up in the massacre. The play celebrates the importance of family history and honors those who find a way to survive an unspeakable tragedy. Cast breakdown: 4 women; 2 men (all Black/African descent) Publisher: Concord Theatricals God Said This, by Leah Nanako Winkler When Masako is diagnosed with cancer, her daughters Hiro and Sophie return to Kentucky to comfort and care for her. Unfortunately, the reunion reawakens family dysfunction. Amidst the crisis, family and friends contemplate their mortality and the legacy they leave behind for their children. This compelling drama serves as a sequel to Winkler’s earlier play Kentucky, about Hiro’s last disastrous trip home for her sister’s wedding. Cast breakdown: 3 women (Japanese/ Japanese American); 2 men (white/

4 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021

European descent) Publisher: Dramatists Play Service Mud Row, by Dominique Morisseau After inheriting her grandmother Elsie’s house in the African American section of West Chester, PA, Regine and her husband Davin arrive to get the house ready for sale, only to find her sister Toshi and her boyfriend Tyriek living there. Decades earlier, Elsie and her sister Frances had clashed over their profoundly different personalities and approaches to life. Alternating between past and present, the play examines the internal rifts that sometimes exist between sisters and the struggle to come to terms with one’s shared heritage. Cast breakdown: 4 women; 2 men (all Black/African descent) Publisher: Concord Theatricals Other People’s Happiness, by Adam Seidel On a family fishing trip in northern Wisconsin, John and Sara’s three-decadelong marriage begins to crumble when Sara announces she’s taken a lover. As the couple and their adult children come together to deal with the bombshell, old

wounds surface, and the parents’ romantic troubles begin to taint their children’s relationships. Cast breakdown: 2 women; 2 men (all any ethnicity) Publisher: Broadway Play Publishing Under the Skin, by Michael Hollinger Aging father Lou desperately needs a kidney. His estranged daughter Raina is a match, but she is unsure if she wants to save his life as her anger and resentment toward her father have been building for a lifetime. When Raina meets Jarrell, another potential donor, their immediate connection complicates her decision in this comedy about what we owe our parents and our children. Cast breakdown: 2 women (1 Black/ African descent, 1 white/European descent); 2 men (1 Black/African descent, 1 white/European descent) Publisher: Dramatists Play Service n Zackary Ross (he/him) is an associate professor of theatre and arts administration program director at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY. He is a member of the Southern Theatre Editorial Board.

Theatre s o u t h e r n


Deanna Thompson

From the SETC President





Southeastern Theatre Conference 5710 W. Gate City Blvd., Suite K, Box 186 Greensboro, NC 27407 336-265-6148 PUBLICATIONS COMMITTEE

Laura King, Chair, Independent Theatre Artist (GA) Becky Becker, Clemson University (SC) Jennifer Goff, Centre College (KY) Gaye Jeffers, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Ricky Ramón, Howard University (DC) Derrick Vanmeter, Clayton State University (GA) EDITORIAL BOARD

Tom Alsip, University of New Hampshire Keith Arthur Bolden, Spelman College (GA) Amy Cuomo, University of West Georgia F. Randy deCelle, University of Alabama Kristopher Geddie, Venice Theatre (FL) Bill Gelber, Texas Tech University David Glenn, Samford University (AL) Scott Hayes, Liberty University (VA) Edward Journey, Independent Artist/Consultant (AL) Stefanie Maiya Lehmann, Lincoln Center (NY) Sarah McCarroll, Georgia Southern University Tiffany Dupont Novak, Actors Theatre of Louisville (KY) Zackary Ross, Bellarmine University (KY) Jonathon Taylor, East Tennessee State University Chalethia Williams, Miles College (AL) Student Member: Christopher Cates, Wake Forest University (NC) PROOFREADERS

Catherine Clifton, Freelance Copy Editor (NC) Denise Halbach, Independent Theatre Artist (MS) Philip G. Hill, Furman University (SC) PRINTING

Salem One, Inc., Winston-Salem, NC NOTE ON SUBMISSIONS

Southern Theatre welcomes submissions of articles pertaining to all aspects of theatre. Preference will be given to subject matter 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. 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. Send queries and stories to: Southern Theatre (ISSNL: 0584-4738) is published three times a year by the Southeastern Theatre Conference, Inc., a nonprofit organization, for its membership and others interested in theatre. Copyright © 2021 by Southeastern Theatre Conference, Inc., 5710 W. Gate City Blvd., Suite K, Box 186, Greensboro, NC 27407. 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; $188 per year, International. Single copies: $8, plus shipping.


After a summer of hope with theatres reopening and travel resuming around the country, we find ourselves staring down a tunnel of uncertainty as the delta variant continues to turn the world and our industry upside down. But this Southern Theatre brings hope and empowerment as artists continue to provide outlets and shape empathy. While COVID-19 led to the closing of some theatres and the layoff of many theatre artists, bright lights could be found over the last year amid the darkened stages. Stefanie Maiya Lehmann describes the work of seven companies that didn’t just keep theatre alive but took it in bold new directions. Meanwhile, Thomas Rodman and Keith Arthur Bolden share the stories of seven artists who devised enterprising new career paths while awaiting a return to the stage. We also spotlight two organizations that are using theatre to address issues in Memphis, TN, the site of the 2022 SETC Convention. Holly Derr details how Playback Memphis has used theatre to bring ex-offenders and police together to learn how to trust one another – techniques that may be helpful to others working for racial equity and social justice in policing. Issues facing immigrants are a focus for another Memphis organization, the Orpheum Theatre Group. Taylor St. John explains how that organization partnered with a refugee empowerment group to put local immigrants’ stories centerstage. The heroism of the woman who served as Rwanda’s one-day president at the start of that country’s 1994 genocide provided inspiration for this year’s winner of SETC’s Charles M. Getchell New Play Contest, Angela J. Davis, who won for her play AGATHE. We share an excerpt from AGATHE and Davis’ thoughts on playwriting in an interview with Laura King. Todd Ristau also clears up a mystery, explaining who the contest’s namesake was and how the award came to be named for him. Fresh from a year of pandemic-related home schooling with his son, Zackary Ross focuses our “Hot off the Press” column, featuring recently published plays, on works about family legacy. In our “Outside the Box” column, which features innovative design/tech solutions, Christina Johnson details how she transformed a metal Halloween pumpkin into a period leg brace for a production. Finally, our “Words, Words, Words…” column features a review by Thomas Chavira of How to Teach a Play: Essential Exercises for Popular Plays, edited by Miriam Chirico and Kelly Younger, a book offering fresh ideas for teaching dozens of works. Let us not give in to the uncertainty, but rather lean on community in times of crisis. The interconnectivity of our world is more evident now than ever, and theatre can be that thread for stories of grief, healing, and hope.

Maegan McNerney Azar (she/her), SETC President Fall 2021 x Southern Theatre x 5



Turn a Pumpkin Into a Period Leg Brace (Without the Help of a Fairy Godmother) by Christina Johnson

periods of time. We considered that lighterweight materials would be quieter onstage,


Alex Kosbab at the University of Alabama,

change mermaid tails. Tasked with such

I had crafted a similar-style, quick-change

a project, I often turn to online articles for

leg brace for Little Becky Two Shoes for a

examples of how to solve these problems in

production of Urinetown directed by Stacy

cost-effective and creative ways. When the

Alley. That brace also needed to be incred-

item to be created is historical in nature, the

ibly lightweight so it did not interfere with

job can be especially challenging.

the dancing required of the actor, and it also

IL. Early in the production process for The

Glass Menagerie, it was decided that Laura

painted to look like metal and bound with

would not need a leg brace as it is a memory

leather bands around the knee and ankle.

play. However, once we began the rehearsal

It was visually appropriate for the large

process, the director decided the actor

proscenium stage, but historical accuracy

needed the leg brace. Since it was worn

was not a factor with the distance between

by the actor throughout the play, it was

the audience and the stage, as well as the

determined it would fall under costumes

stylization of the show design. For this

rather than props.

production of The Glass Menagerie, the space

Research and ideas

was much more intimate, so it required

I began researching leg braces of the

much finer detail.

mid-1940s and soon discovered that rep-

A craft store bargain

licating them could be very costly. My

next step was to contact local orthopedic

scene shop for materials and ideas, I opted

specialists to see if I could find an office

to visit local craft stores. I wandered the

display or even a brace used for instruc-

aisles hoping for inspiration and stumbled

tional purposes, but I had no luck. I found

upon a metal pumpkin in the fall decora-

several types of leg braces online, but none

tions. The pumpkin was crafted with a


of them matched the research images I

semi-pliable, lightweight galvanized steel

had gathered. I reached out to my peers

that had been distressed to appear rustic.


across online communities and, although

Bingo! The price tag read $15.99, and with

I received many great ideas, they all had

my handy 40% off coupon code, it was a


issues with costs or with the time needed

steal at under $10!

to assemble.

I returned to the costume shop with

With time running out, I broke down

my pumpkin prize and began dismantling

the key requirements for the leg brace:

the structure. With some help from the

leather straps, metal rods, the ability to

technical director and a few power tools, I

be worn over a shoe, and simple removal.

was able to break it down to just the metal

It also needed to be lightweight and pli-

pieces. To cut off the stem and release the

able enough for the actor to wear for long

metal bars, we used a small angle grinder

Christina Johnson

back on.



3.88 $46.85

NOTE: Most items other than the pumpkin will be in your stock already.

6 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021

from dancing elephant butts to quick-

in less than 45 seconds and then quickly put

Whopper snaps (2) Total:

As an assistant costume designer to

the Mississippi Bend Players in Rock Island,

Skirt hooks and eyes (box of 50 on Amazon)

sound coming from the brace.

fabricating hard-to-find items, ranging

needed to be taken off by the actor onstage

Faux leather

and adding a rubber sole would limit the

In the summer of 2018, I was the

Materials Needed

(1/2 yard was plenty)

designer, I have been challenged with

costume designer and shop manager for

Laura, played by Marjorie Gast, wears a period leg brace crafted from a metal pumpkin in Mississippi Bend Players’ production of The Glass Menagerie, directed by Corinne Johnson.

Metal pumpkin

hroughout my career as a costume

For that piece, I used wooden stir sticks

After checking the costume shop and the

Step 1

Step 5

Step 2

Step 3

Step 6

Step 4

STEPS TO CREATE THE LEG BRACE Step 1: Acquire the found piece – the pumpkin. Step 2: Dismantle the pumpkin. Use pliers to straighten the pieces. Step 3: Measure the actor’s leg from knee down to determine the length of the two longer bars; measure the width of the actor’s arch for the bar under the foot. Step 4: Bend a smaller piece into a U shape for the arch. Step 5: Assemble the frame. I used 2-part epoxy to join pieces and clamped them for the suggested curing time. Step 6: Cut the faux leather pieces and stitch together, remembering to create a 1" channel for the metal to go through. Slip the metal bars into place inside the channel. Step 7: Give the brace a final fitting, adding hook and eye closures and a whopper snap for stability.

Step 7

with a cut-off wheel. All of the pieces were

long metal bands, and I secured the metal

needed more strength, so hooks and bars

then deburred with a right-angle grinder

bars in the channels with more of the epoxy.

were added. Our use of faux leather proved

with a flat disc, and the tops of the metal

Before finishing the bands, I fit the brace

advantageous, as the bands stretched well

bars were rounded to protect the leather.

on the actor and asked the actor to com-

while retaining their original shape.

This gave us two long bars that, based on

plete the most difficult blocking. We then

Inexpensive and unexpected

measurements of the actor’s leg, would

adjusted the straps with snap closures at the

In the end, the brace met the needs of

extend from below the knee to the floor, and

side, making it easier for the actor to put on

the production – at a total cost of about $15,

one small piece the width of the foot, with

and remove the brace. After two fittings, the

because we had all components in stock

one inch added on both sides for attaching

brace was ready to be used in rehearsal.

except the pumpkin and the epoxy.

to the longer pieces.

The next step was to bend those one-inch

al, we realized that the metal was so pliable

of the importance of divergent thinking in

tabs to create a U-shaped bar that would fit

that it tended to warp with extended wear.

design and how we must always be open

in the arch of the foot. I bent the tabs with

I decided to reinforce the long bars by

to unexpected solutions. You never know,

pliers and a bench clamp to 90 degrees,

adhering thin metal rods to the interior

you may find yourself turning a pumpkin

leaving enough room for the actor’s shoe.

sides. I inspected the brace throughout the

into a leg brace! n

I joined the pieces with two-part epoxy and

dress rehearsals, performances and photo

left them clamped for 24 hours, allowing

shoot to ensure that it maintained its shape.

the epoxy to cure.

The pliability of the metal actually ben-

efited the actor, allowing greater comfort

With those pieces clamped, I began work

After working with the brace in rehears-

on the leather bands. I cut and stitched the

and ease of movement.

bands using brown pleather from stock.

We also realized the pleather bands

Fabricating this leg brace reminded me

Christina Johnson (she/her) is resident costume designer and an assistant professor of theatre at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. She has designed for numerous stage productions.

The upper band was 4.5" tall and sewn to allow for some give in the actor’s movement. The lower band was 3" tall and sewn to the circumference of the actor’s ankle. The faux leather bands had pockets stitched in the sides for placement of the

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 David Glenn at Fall 2021 x Southern Theatre x 7


Companies Innovate to Keep Art Alive During COVID

Garrett Houston/Barter Theatre

by Stefanie Maiya Lehmann


In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, countless theatre companies were forced to shut their doors. However, some daring organizations turned challenges into opportunities, creating theatre in new ways and new places in an effort to not just survive, but to grow theatre in new directions. In the summer of 2021, Southern Theatre interviewed seven theatre companies that championed innovation and sought to reimagine how we define “theatre.” We asked them to share how they innovated and how they – and other theatres – can apply lessons learned during the pandemic as they reopen. ACTORS THEATRE OF LOUISVILLE

Dracula and A Christmas Carol; experiments in virtual

Louisville, KY

video game called Plague Doctor: Contagion 430 BCE-

Less than two weeks after

2020 AD; a series featuring Kentucky musicians; a

its 44th Humana Festival

partnership merging art and service for healthcare

of New American Plays

workers coping with compassion fatigue; the Bor-

opened, Actors Theatre of

rowed Wisdom podcast and Actors Theatre Unscripted

Louisville (Actors Theatre)

Facebook Live forum, which both create space for

had to cancel all the remaining live performances in

community dialogue around issues of justice and

the acclaimed festival as COVID-19 shut down the-

equity; and the 2021 Humana Festival, a virtual

atres across the country. Robert Barry Fleming (he/

exhibition of new work and emergent technologies.

Innovations: Nationally recognized digital theatre and more

reality like Ali Summit and Beyond the Crossroads; a

him), executive artistic director, didn’t hesitate to shift the paradigm.

“Our artistic team launched into a year of digital Actors Theatre of Louisville

work exploring the intersection of art, technology and social transformation, and we’ve pursued a transmedia approach to storytelling, sharing experiences on many different platforms,” he said. Actors Theatre’s virtual programming captured national attention, with a production of Where Did We Sit on the Bus?, originally intended as a live performance, earning the theatre a Drama League Award nomination for outstanding individual digital theatre production. The play featured actress/singer/

By staying nimble, Actors Theatre extended its

musician Satya Chávez in a reenvisioning of the role

digital programming to audiences in 47 states and

created by Brian Quijada, the writer of the one-person

10 countries. With local limitations removed, their

show. The production was filmed and edited with all

adapted educational experiences were serving 3,000

the collaborators working remotely, and, according

students from Louisville to the Bronx in spring 2021.

to Fleming, it “stretched us into new territory as we

“We’re committed to uplifting historically dis-

explored using video capture and editing technolo-

enfranchised voices and communities through the

gies, as well as illustration, to create work that feels

stories we tell and the people we serve, and we’re

uniquely theatrical and cinematic at the same time.”

determined not to let the pandemic interrupt that

Beyond that, the breadth of the innovative efforts

work,” Fleming said. “In this time of isolation and

at Actors Theatre is staggering – live spoken-word

upheaval for so many, it’s been important to us to

performances; numerous on-demand productions;

continue finding ways to build community and critical

animated shorts that range from Aesop’s fable The Boy

consciousness, while also bringing some joy. Addition-

Who Cried Wolf to Guillaume Apollinaire’s surrealist

ally, with digital experiences, we’ve been able to make

classic The Breasts of Tiresias; radio play adaptations of

our work more accessible, reaching a wider range of

Garrett Houston/BarterTheatre

Top: Robert Barry Fleming of Actors Theatre of Louisville. Above: Satya Chávez is shown in a scene from Actors Theatre’s Where Did We Sit on the Bus?, nominated for a Drama League Award.

Opposite page: Barter Theatre in Virginia presented a season of live shows at a drive-in theatre. See more, Page 12.

Fall 2021 x Southern Theatre x 9

traditionally underrepresented audience members

thew Libby, in a live virtual event created using green

who may not otherwise have been able to attend.”

screen studios, labs and motion-capture software.

Looking ahead, Actors Theatre of Louisville envi-

Susan V. Booth (she/her), the Alliance’s Jennings

sions being a leader in multi-platform entertainment

Hertz artistic director, knew they “had to do all of

centered in theatrical experiences.

these things because not only did we want to keep our

“As social gathering becomes safe, we do not

audience engaged, but because we’re in the business

anticipate a ‘return to normal’ but will employ a

of expanding hearts and minds, and everything that

hybrid model that allows us to continue to innovate

happened last year wasn’t going to stop that from

onstage, online and out in the community,” Fleming

continuing. We had to expand our own hearts and


minds as well, from figuring out how to continue

Innovations: Theatre online, in a parking lot and under a tent


producing quality theatre during a global pandemic to responding to the Black Lives Matter protests and ensuring that we’re doing our best in our equity,

Atlanta, GA

diversity and inclusion initiatives.”

When the Alliance Theatre

Despite the challenges of learning new mediums,

shut down its venue in

adjusting to new safety policies and even fighting

March 2020, the company

the realities of bad weather for outdoor venues,

knew it had to shift its opera-

Booth says that the response from audiences was

tions outside the four walls

overwhelmingly positive.

of a theatre. The Alliance quickly launched a new

“Not only were they thrilled to see a return to

digital streaming platform, Alliance Theatre Anywhere,

normalcy with live theatre – albeit from their car,

and leaned on digital conferencing to continue offer-

under a tent, or on their TV screen,” says Booth,

ing outreach and educational opportunities such as

“but they were so ready to support us again. It was

virtual coaching, virtual summer camps, conferences

so encouraging to be doing what we love again but

and artist roundtables.

also to be making such a positive escape for our

In late November, the Alliance released A Very

community that has gone through so much.”

Terry Christmas for streaming while simultaneously

creating its first live play since the start of the pan-

lessons it has learned during the pandemic. It plans

As theatres begin to reopen, the Alliance is using

to continue offering content on Alliance Theatre Anywhere, while also reapproaching the ways staff members get work done.

“There are some departments that can’t work from

home, but we’re allowing flexibility now with departments that can, who have had to move further away Alliance Theatre

or have children who need attention,” Booth said. “We’re nothing apart from the people on and off our stages, and we can and should do nothing less than making sure they’re well-represented and cared for.”

But the company is also planning a return to

traditional onstage productions in 2021-2022. Top: Susan V. Booth of the Alliance Theatre. Above: Sit-In, by Pearl Cleage, originally envisioned as a play, was turned into an animated short to reach young audiences during the pandemic.

10 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021

demic – adapting its annual production of A Christmas

Carol into a drive-in radio play presented in a parking

to the challenges of the last year and a half, I’m old-

“As much as I’ve enjoyed learning how to adapt

lot, with in-car radio broadcasting, oversized screens

school,” Booth said. “I can’t wait to get back into

and actors in individual shipping containers.

our space and start producing live theatre on our

In January 2021, the Alliance began streaming

stages. Above all else in this art form, I love most the

its first animated feature, Sit-In, written by Atlanta

fact that the artists and the audience are in common

playwright and civil rights activist Pearl Cleage. In

space on a common pursuit to create an hour or two

April, the Alliance opened its “Under the Tent” series,

of human community: to wrestle in real time with the

providing a space for open-air, socially distanced

real truths and joys and sorrows of our shared time

performances, and in May, premiered Data, by Mat-

on the planet. This work is so messy and wonderful

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and ephemeral – and it has been missed.”

online streaming platform – and multiplied

first time they

Booth hopes others follow the Alliance’s

the reach of the production from the hun-

had felt normal

lead. “As a theatre, we’ve been able to do a

dreds initially expected in person to over

since lockdown

lot in this past upside-down year. The same

40,000 students online.

began,” said Katy

commitment which helped us continue

While Barter on Demand was a start, the

Brown (she/her),

inspiring thousands while our stages were

leaders of Barter Theatre, a professional

Barter’s produc-

dark will enable us to do more innovative,

company serving a remote rural area in Vir-

ing artistic direc-

equitable and uplifting work as we come

ginia, knew they needed to do more. They

tor. Over 40% of

together in person in the future. If we can

realized that neither their organization, nor

make changes that better our community

the local businesses that depend on tourism

as a whole, you can, too.”

driven by the theatre, could survive being

Barter’s audience Katy Brown of Barter at the Moonlite Theatre. was either new or

shuttered for an extended period.

lapsed, she added.


In. The company restored a nearby drive-

their pajamas, bring food and pets, and

Abingdon, VA

in cinema as a site for live performances

that they could enjoy the nostalgia of the

When the pan-

onstage, simulcast onto the “big screen” and

drive-in,” she said.

demic hit, Barter

delivered into car radios. (See photo, Page 8.)

Brown says Barter ’s pandemic per-

Theatre was pre-

Their “Quaranteam” created an entirely

formances wouldn’t have been possible

paring for college

touchless experience for patrons. Through

without the hard work and drive of those

students to arrive for a spring 2020 produc-

10 productions over eight months, there

who worked at the theatre.

tion of Macbeth supported by a Shakespeare

were no COVID cases associated with

“The thing that resonates with me the

in American Communities grant. Rather

their shows.

most is the resilience of theatre people,”

than disappoint the students, the theatre

The biggest feedback received from

Brown said. “I always thought they were

quickly launched Barter on Demand, an

audiences was that their visit “was the

the people I wanted around if the zombie

Innovations: From streaming to live shows at the drive-in

The answer: Barter at the Moonlite Drive-

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“People loved that they could come in






Court Theatre

C O L L A B O R A T • BA in Theatre with and Production E Performance Concentrations . • Annual Production in London at the International Youth C Arts Festival • Experiential in R State of the ArtLearning Facilities E • Acting Scholarships and Assistantships A TechnicalAvailable T information, please contact: E ForLeemore Neibert, Director of Theatre at . (864) 503-5987 or 800 University Way Spartanburg, SC 29303 C O N T R I B U T E

Left: Angel Ysaguirre of Court Theatre. Right: BIPOC actors (above) connected one-on-one with audience members in Theatre for One: Here We Are, a sold-out series of eight micro plays written by female BIPOC playwrights and directed by female BIPOC directors.

apocalypse ever occurred, but now I know

Elders in partnership with the artistic col-

that to be true. They problem-solved, they

lective For You. This initiative paired artists

dreamt up elegant solutions on a scrappy

with older people and provided creative

budget, they said yes – over and over again.

prompts for their exchanges at least once

Even though the experience was absolutely a

a week via Zoom and phone, drawing on

game-changer, it was built by utilizing what

dramaturgy from the cancelled show to

was at the core of the process of creating

look for “beacons of hope in our connec-

theatre already. We learned that those tools

tions with strangers.”

work on even the most difficult problems.”

She notes that Barter’s resilience has

him) found that both groups were thrilled

Executive director Angel Ysaguirre (he/

deep roots, reaching back to its founding

with their experiences.

as a theatre accepting food as payment for

“Artists expressed how much they


received emotionally from being in a rela-

“Barter was founded in the Great

tionship with their elder,” Ysaguirre said.

Depression as a way for actors to eat,”

“Elders expressed pleasure from being in

Brown noted. “Those actors faced one of the

a relationship with their artist. In the end,

hardest times in American history and used

the emotional benefits were mutual, with

art to feed souls and mouths. We found

artists and elders both giving and getting

that the more we were true to their way of

something out of the connection.”

thinking, the easier it was to innovate, and

As the pandemic continued, Court

the more we innovated, the more we were

Theatre began producing online seminars

leaning into our own history.”

on playwrights and virtual play readings.

Her advice for other theatres looking for

It also streamed a production of Owen

how to emerge from the pandemic: “Think

McCafferty’s Titanic (Scenes from the British

about what makes your company unique

Wreck Commissioner’s Report, 1912), directed

in the world, and many of the answers you

by Vanessa Stalling.

need will spring from that seed.”

Innovations: One-on-one experiences with elders, audiences


However, the most powerful audience

response came from the Court’s widely talked-about, sold-out, four-week run of Theatre for One: Here We Are, created in

Chicago, IL

partnership with Octopus Theatricals and

When the Court

under the direction of the artists Christine

Theatre’s produc-

Jones and Jenny Koons. Inspired by Jones’

tion of Ibsen’s

original Theatre for One, an NYC public art

Lady from the Sea

project performed in a specially designed

was shut down in March 2020, the first

booth, Court’s Here We Are reenvisioned the

step taken by the University of Chicago’s

project as a digital theatrical experience.

professional theatre was to create Artists &

Each of a series of eight micro plays,

How far will you go?

212-541-4684 |



written by female Black, Indigenous and

pandemic inspired leaders to look for new

People of Color (BIPOC) playwrights,

methods of reaching audiences.

directed by female BIPOC directors and

“With all the isolation from COVID

performed by BIPOC actors, connected

restrictions, we wanted to create a way

one actor with one audience member, one

for artists and audiences to be together

at a time, using a specially created online

again,” said Nichole Palmietto (she/her),

platform. The intimate digital platform

cofounder and executive artistic director.

allowed the actor and audience member to

During a virtual happy hour with the

look one another in the eye. It also brought

company’s core writing team, an escape

audience members together in an online

room-style, immersive, post-apocalyptic

room to converse before a performance and

Zoom play, The Shift, was born. Audience

to reflect on the experience afterward.

members signing in from Georgia to Japan

The Court’s experiences with Theatre for

became active participants as members of

One and Artists & Elders during the pan-

the Committee, a resistance group formed

demic have dramatically altered its view

to regain control of the water resources after

of theatre, Ysaguirre said.

a greedy corporation dammed up a local

“[They] have definitely changed the

river vital to the community.

game, as we used to think of our audito-

“The audience was split into teams

rium or another stage in the community as

(through Zoom breakout rooms) to assist

the primary place where we can meaning-

one of the three female engineers with tasks

fully do work,” he said. “Now we know

designed by regional escape room creator

that we can serve audiences in a much

R. Andrew Puckett,” Palmietto said.

wider variety of ways.”

Innovations: Escape room-style works, plays by text


Recently, Found Stages has been testing

a custom-experience, text-message adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, titled Much Ado Over Texting, written by cofounder Neeley Gossett.

Since its creation

in 2014, Found

messages directly from your close friends

“For two weeks, you will get sent text

Stages has aimed

Beatrice, Benedick and Hero,” Palmietto

to push the bound-

said. “There are also daily links to news-

aries of theatre and take plays beyond the

paper articles to fill you in on the goings-on

four walls of the traditional theatre. As early

in Messina, where you ‘grew up.’ ”

as 2016, Found Stages embraced technol-

ogy to support Atlanta Podplays, a series of

back, prompting Found Stages to plan more

walking tour audio dramas inspired by local

plays in this format.

historical events, and, in 2018, their first text-

message play, The Year Without Summer. The

text-message plays,” Palmietto said. “We

The test run received very positive feed-

Found Stages

“We definitely plan to keep going with

Left: Nichole Palmietto of Found Stages. Right: A promo for The Shift, a post-apocalyptic Zoom production that drew audience members from Japan as well as the U.S. to participate in an immersive, escape room-style experience. 16 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021

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Left: Michel Hausmann of Miami New Drama. Right: 7 Deadly Sins included seven 10-minute plays presented in empty storefronts to audiences seated outdoors, wearing earbuds.

love that this format appeals to teens and

pandemic, selling out for two months, twice

offers a new and more dynamic way to

extending due to popular demand, and

experience literature.”

earning national exposure when it won a

As theatres slowly open and continue

2021 Drama League Award.

looking for ways to connect with audi-

Modeling his production after a 1974

ences, Palmietto offers this advice: “Pursue

Venezuelan production of Thornton Wild-

projects that you, yourself, would like to

er’s 10-minute plays about the seven deadly

participate in. And find ways to embrace

sins, Hausmann commissioned seven

whatever platform you’re using. Don’t

diverse playwrights to write seven short

just present a traditional play over Zoom –

plays to be performed in seven uniquely

create a story that requires Zoom. What

transformed, socially distant, empty

results will truly be unique!”

storefronts along historic Lincoln Road.

Innovations: Live theatre productions in empty storefronts


looked at America through the lens of the seven deadly sins.

Miami Beach, FL

“We helped process what it means to

When the shut-

live in America in the year of the pandemic,

down began,

Black Lives Matter and political reckoning,”

Michel Hausmann

Hausmann said.

(he/him), artistic

18 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021

The playwrights for MiND’s 7 Deadly Sins

Buy-in and community support helped

director and founder of Miami New Drama

make this project possible, with logisti-

(MiND), packed up his office in the Colony

cal support from Lincoln Road Business

Theatre and prepared for the worst.

Improvement District, a nonprofit dedicat-

“Perhaps because I was very pessimis-

ed to improving the Lincoln retail business

tic about the length of this disruption, I

area, and financial and structural support

allowed myself to deeply think about the

provided by the City of Miami Beach and

nature of the theatrical discipline,” he said.

the Miami-Dade County Department of

As he passed empty storefronts on

Cultural Affairs.

Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road, inspiration

struck, giving him the idea for a new way

and funders were being restrictive and cau-

of presenting theatre during a pandemic:

tious, they saw the value in supporting the

“I saw actors inside of storefronts and

arts in the immediate,” Hausmann said.

audiences sitting on the other side of the

Synchronizing seven plays across seven


venues, not to mention live music and an

That image was the foundation of

outdoor “purgatory” lounge, required a lot

what became the largest professional live

of technical expertise. Additional staff were

theatre production in the U.S. during the

hired, totaling over 100 individuals, from

“When other communities, foundations,

The show must go on — SAFELY!


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protocols were followed while keeping the production comfortable for the audience. However, audiences were more than comfortable. “The response from the audience was thrilling,” Hausmann recollected. “The chatter, the applause, the laughter after so much isolation, was at times more visceral than the plays.”

The production’s success inspired Tec-

tonic Theater Project and Madison Wells

Left: Timmy Metzner of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. Right: Ramsey Faragallah (left) and Yousof Sultani cook a meal together, one in New York and the other in Palestine, in This Is Who I Am, a play performed and streamed live nightly on Zoom in December 2020 and made available on demand again in April 2021.

Live to mount a version for New York City’s Meatpacking District in June of 2021.

Wisdom and Where We Belong and adapted

Metzner believes the company was

Hausmann’s takeaway from the experi-

its 2020-21 season to include new artistic

well-positioned to “meet this moment …

ence? “We can thrive under constraining

experiences for a mid-pandemic society.

Woolly has a reputation for doing work

and unforeseeable circumstances just as

In October 2020, Woolly Mammoth

that pokes at the edges of style and form,

theatre has done for millennia if we believe

collaborated with The Telephonic Literary

while also having something to say about

in the stories we are telling. That core of our

Union, audio-play makers, to develop a

the cultural zeitgeist.”

work has not and will not change. Always

telephone-based, choose your own adven-

While returning to live plays this fall,

be asking questions. Who are you telling

ture experience, Human Resources. Patrons

Woolly Mammoth also intends to continue

stories for? Who is your community? Why

dialed into the customer service hotline to

providing widely accessible virtual con-

this project? Theatre can exist anywhere –

explore a myriad of micro-performances

tent and is excited about what the future

tell the stories that matter for you and your

about finding connection and happiness,

will bring. Metzner encourages others to

community and have a distinctive answer

all via a phone tree system.

“keep innovating and keep pivoting. Allow

to the question ‘why?’ ”

Innovations: Livestreams, a telephone play and a canon reset

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

In December 2020, Woolly presented a

yourself to be nimble, but also assess what’s

new play by Amir Nizar Zuabi, This Is Who

working and what isn’t. Give yourself the

I Am, in a joint production with PlayCo of

time to course-correct.”

New York and three other theatres. Per-


formed and streamed live every night on

With pandemic worries still an issue this

Zoom, the play provided a glimpse into the

fall, the work of these seven companies may

Washington, DC

lives of a father and son – one in Palestine,

provide inspiration to others. Constraints

When the shut-

one in New York City – as they reconnected

can be opportunities in disguise. Psycholo-

down hit Woolly

via Zoom to cook a meal together after the

gists have found that when humans have

Mammoth Theatre Company, a pivot from

passing of the mother. In April, Woolly

less to work with, their minds creatively

planned in-person productions to filmed

Mammoth made the play available again

meet those challenges. These companies

theatrical experiences was the first step.

on demand as part of its spring season.

looked beyond the difficulties of the pan-

However, learning to become streaming

In March 2021, after inviting a panel of

demic and used their limitations to push the

producers was not a simple task, acknowl-

six Black cisgender women to share works

art form beyond its traditional definition.

edges Timmy Metzner (he/him), Woolly

that have deeply impacted them, the com-

They embraced innovation to show that

Mammoth’s director of marketing.

pany launched RESET, a new digital project

theatre is much more than its building. As

“We are good at making live art and

reimagining what the theatrical canon

choreographer Martha Graham once said,

novices at the art of broadcasting,” Metzner

could be through the specific lens of the

“Theatre is a verb before it is a noun, an act

said. “Building up those skills quickly was

contributions of Black women.

before it is a place.” n

a challenge.”

When it came to the 2020-2021 season

New video production, editing and

at Woolly Mammoth, “it was a priority to

distribution partnerships were integral in

create art that spoke to this moment both

guiding the company, he said.

from the lens of the pandemic, but also

Woolly Mammoth created on-demand

of the conversations around racism and

productions of Hi, Are You Single?, Animal

inequality in our country,” Metzner said.

20 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021

Stefanie Maiya Lehmann (she/ her) is the business manager of Lincoln Center Concert Halls and Production in New York City and a member of the Southern Theatre Editorial Board.

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Enterprising Theatre Artists Get Creative With Careers by Thomas Rodman and Keith Ar thur Bolden


No matter what corner of the world or what industry we work in, we have all been affected by COVID-19. A shutdown that was expected to be short-term extended well over a year. Even businesses that could shift to a telework model for their employees saw losses as the floor fell out of the consumer base. Those that relied on in-person interactions had to close or put in protocols to address proximity and safety. The theatre industry, based almost exclusively on close-proximity human interaction, was hit especially hard. An August 2021 report by Americans for the Arts found that nonprofit arts and cultural organizations in the U.S. have experienced an estimated $17.97 billion in financial losses since the start of the pandemic. Within this sector, 95% of artists and creative workers surveyed reported lost creative income, with at least 63% experiencing unemployment during the height of the pandemic. How have theatre practitioners been able to weather the storm during the shutdown? Many artists and creative workers had to find what work they could and move to whatever industry was offering employment, waiting for the day when they could return to the theatre world. However, some enterprising individuals pivoted in innovative ways, launching new ventures that not only brought in income they desperately needed but also tapped their theatre skills and took their creativity in new directions. We asked seven of these entrepreneurs to share their stories with Southern Theatre. Monica Hammond Broadway Murder Mysteries

praying it would sell, but I never dreamed I’d make $25k in my first few weeks during the pandemic! I hit six figures within the first few months of starting

Monica Hammond (she/her), an actor, writer,

the business and was able to leave my full-time job in

marketer and entrepreneur based in Lynbrook, NY,

December 2020 to pursue this full-time. I now have

was working as director of marketing for Davenport

three businesses, including Big Leap Brands, where

Theatrical Enterprises – a full-time job she had held

I help other entertainment entrepreneurs grow their

for six-plus years – when COVID-19 hit, leading to


shutdowns in the live entertainment industry.

Do you plan to move back into work in

What new area or job did you move into during

theatre as theatres begin opening again?

the pandemic?

I have a deep love of theatre and would like to con-

I started Broadway Murder Mysteries at the start of

tinue working on Broadway shows in a marketing

the pandemic as a way to supplement my income,

capacity. I am currently working on the new Neil

which had been affected by the closing of Broadway.

Diamond musical, A Beautiful Noise, and hope to have

I write and work with other theatre writers to create

more clients this year.

murder mystery games that can be played virtually

Do you plan to keep this new venture going?

or in person.

I plan not only to keep Broadway Murder Mysteries

How did this new enterprise use your

going, but to hit $1 million in revenue this year!

theatre skills?

Any other thoughts you wish to share?

I wrote the first game my company created, Bullets on

Because of this success, I’ve been able to leave my

Broadway (as well as many others). I’d been writing

job and teach others how to do what I’ve done. I

and hosting murder mystery parties for my friends

did the struggling actor thing for a decade in New

(all theatre nerds like me) for almost 10 years.

York City and the hardest part was trying to keep a

Has it been a successful venture?

job that paid the bills and was flexible enough to let

Yes, it has been! I started Broadway Murder Mysteries

me audition and even take off when needed. I want

from a hospital room right after my son was born on

theatre people, especially actors, to have the same

March 18, 2020, at the start of the pandemic. I hustled

level of freedom and flexibility that I now have from

to get my first game done and launched it, hoping and

being my own boss.

Above: Monica Hammond of Broadway Murder Mysteries. Opposite page: Actors Alexa Servodidi and Brandon Hicks serve as hosts for a group presenting one of the Broadway Murder Mysteries.

Fall 2021 x Southern Theatre x 23

Vasthy Mompoint Vasthy’s Friends

Below: Vasthy Mompoint films a segment for her children’s show Vasthy’s Friends. Inset: A child watches the show.

living facility, Ludacris Foundation’s LudaCares, and more. How did you get others from Broadway

Vasthy Mompoint (she/her) is a voice and musical

involved in the show?

actress who has appeared in eight Broadway shows,

I ask my friends, and they come on. Every guest on

most recently The Prom. A first-generation Haitian-

the show is a friend or close associate of mine.

American who grew up in Hoover, AL, and now lives

How did this new enterprise use your

in Los Angeles, she also has worked in film/TV and

theatre skills?

done voiceovers for Nickelodeon.

It is a children’s show where we dance, sing and play

What new area or job did you move into

games with kids.

during the pandemic?

Has it been a successful venture?

Producer, creative director and host of my own show,

Yes. We have finished the first season and are cur-

Vasthy’s Friends, presented on Zoom and featuring

rently seeking more producers and raising funds to

guest appearances by Broadway performers. Vasthy’s

do the show live this fall.

Friends was born out of the many events of 2020,

Do you plan to move back into work in

from the pandemic to civil unrest, as a way to bring

theatre as theatres begin opening again?

joy, play, adventure and empathy to humans all over

I do not. I am tired of being in the background and

the world – all through song, dance, storytelling and

that seemed to be all Broadway wanted me to be. I

exploration of cultures beyond our own! Since the

want to be seen and heard. I will continue writing,

pandemic shutdowns began, we have performed

producing and working in film and TV.

over 500 virtual shows for children, nursing homes,

How do you plan to keep this new venture

hospitals, family functions, holiday parties, company


picnics, church parties and more. We have also

Over the summer, we did a small-scale live tour to

donated over $10,000 in time and entertainment

several cities. Starting in September 2021, we are

to organizations such as The Children’s Miracle

doing a weekly show at the Santa Monica Pier in

Network, Pretty Brown Girls, the New Jewish Home

California. We are doing a hybrid performance where we will be virtual (having screens so we can talk to the kids at home). Then we will perform live like any other show – singing songs, teaching dances to the kids and interacting as much as possible. I will still be joined by guests from Broadway and beyond. We are also in the process of creating an album, which will include songs written and performed by various members of the Vasthy’s Friends cast. Any other thoughts you wish to share?

That thing you know you can do? Do it. It’s time.

Shelley Butler and West Hyler Artistic Stamp Shelley Butler (she/her) and West Hyler (he/him) are freelance directors with careers on and off Broadway, at regional theatres and internationally. During the Vasthy’s Friends

pandemic, they moved from New York City, where they had lived for 15 years, to Greenville, SC, and found a new way to create theatre. What new area or job did you move into during the pandemic?

Searching for ways to connect with audiences and collaborate with artists during the pandemic, we moved 24 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021

We sing. we dance. we play. we design. An amazing education is waiting for you at the

into producing, creating Artistic Stamp – a

performers and audience. Each audience

even taste (we send mustard seeds in our

plays-by-mail company. We commissioned

response determines the reply they receive.

play Wild Thyme). One way this is different

10 playwrights and pioneered the medium

We also learned that letters, like theatre,

from live theatre is that the audience can

of interactive, letter-art adventures wherein

occur in a shared space: the space inside

have their own very personal reaction and

playwrights create stories with multiple

an envelope. This allowed us to engage

choose to reveal more of themselves in the

branching narratives, allowing the audi-

the senses of audience members – to send

exchange if they wish. It can become a pen-

ence to choose their own path through the

something that could have scent, touch and

pal experience with a character in the play.

play. Over the course of four months, each audience member receives and responds to six letters. We employed over 40 actors to handwrite the letters and, perhaps most key, they became responsible for improvising a portion of each letter based on the audience’s reply. The result is a theatre-forone experience. How did this new enterprise use your theatre skills?

We drew heavily on our theatre skills (and those of our playwrights and actors), certainly in the realm of collaboration and dramaturgy, but also thinking about how to employ some of our favorite elements of live theatre. We discovered that letters allow for the essential interaction between

26 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021

Above: Shelley Butler and West Hyler, the wife-andhusband team that created Artistic Stamp. Left: Samples of letters sent to and received back from audience members.

Based on the wildly popular Disney Channel Movies the next generation of Villains comes to life on your stage!



Has it been a successful venture?

Editor: Scott to license one of our stories so Phillips that high

Yes! After launching this out of our living

school and university drama students can

room on a shoestring, we have now sent

be the actors, handling the improv and

and received over 6,500 letters. We part-

letter writing and interacting with audience

nered with 59E59 Theaters on our second

members in their own community (with the

season and were nominated for a Drama

option to turn their letter-writing experi-

League Award for “outstanding socially

ence into a live performance if they wish).

distanced theatre.” In a different measure

Any other thoughts you wish to

of success, we learned that during a year of


extreme isolation, these exchanges between

Our major takeaway from this endeavor has

actors and audience members brought

been the joy and power of truly centering

much-needed connection to both parties.

the audience. Nothing we have created on

Do you plan to move back into

stage allowed us to know this much about

work in theatre as theatres begin

our audience members, and we want to find

opening again?

ways to take that experience back into our

Yes. West is already in rehearsal in Vegas

traditional theatre work. We were greatly

on a new show, iLuminate, and I’m heading

inspired by how the pandemic encour-

into rehearsal for the workshop production

aged other artists to redefine boundaries,

of a new country musical, May We All, set

expanding the definition of theatre. We

to premiere in spring 2022.

are honored to have played a part in the

Do you plan to keep this new venture

reimagining of American theatre over


the past 18 months. We hope this is only

We do! We have partnered with Uproar

the start of this kind of innovation as live

Theatrics, which is offering the opportunity

theatre returns.


MLitt/MFA in Shakespeare & Performance at Mary Baldwin in partnership with the American Shakespeare Center


PIEDMONT IS FAMILY Gabriel Slusser ’16

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, Technical Direction— Lexington Children’s Theatre



ince graduating from Piedmont University, Slusser has steadily progressed toward his goal of becoming an artistic director. He was the scene shop foreman for the Titusville Playhouse in Florida and a carpenter for the Texas Shakespeare Theatre. Today, he is technical director for the Lexington Children’s Theatre in Kentucky.

Born Yesterday, Finishing Carpenter— Texas Shakespeare Festival

Slusser explored his passion at Piedmont, and personal relationships helped build a community of support that he will take with him wherever he goes. Personal. Passionate. Practical. That is the Piedmont Promise.

I knew there were people who were going to be there to help pick me up and get me moving in the right direction.

PIEDMONT.EDU/APPLY For other career success stories, visit

as helping others get through the hurdles

forefront of individuals’ minds. Addition-

of putting their content on Zoom.

ally, having the pandemic caused people to

How did this new enterprise use

have to slow down because you couldn’t

your theatre skills?

program, or you couldn’t do projects in

Born in South Korea and raised in New

As a producer, I’ve done some lighting,

person, which allowed more time to do

Jersey, Kayla Kim Votapek (she/her)

sound and costumes – a little bit of every-

the anti-racism work. I was co-facilitating

previously worked as a producer for the

thing. I’ve been able to translate that and

workshops and learning more about facili-

Tony Award-winning Crossroads Theatre

my technical skills with programming into

tation work through Zoom – learning more

Company in Brunswick, NJ, while also

work in the Zoom world.

about different methodologies and finding

serving as an anti-racist facilitator. In

Has it been a successful venture?

my own voices in that, too.

2020, she found new work as a technical

Yes, in an unfortunate way. During the pan-

Do you plan to move back into

consultant on Zoom productions and an

demic, we have

work in theatre as theatres begin

increased need for her expertise in anti-

had the murder

opening again?

racist facilitation.

of George Floyd,

Ideally, I hope to do a mixture of both. I

What new area or job did you move

the murders in

really like the schedule of a freelance life

into during the pandemic?

Atlanta in the

compared to being on the schedule of a

When the pandemic hit, I was looking for a

Asian American

theatre company. I will continue working

new job as a producer. I am very fortunate

Pacific Islander

at theatre and arts organizations if some-

to say that I think it was only a month or

(AAPI) commu-

one wants to hire me to do consultant

so of being on unemployment before some

nity, et cetera, et

work for them. I also know there’s a career

other employment opportunities presented

cetera, et cetera.

developing within the industry of being

Kayla Kim Votapek Anti-Racist Facilitator, Technical Consultant, Creative Producer

themselves. People wanted to do things on Zoom, so I ended up doing a lot more anti-racist facilitation work online as well

30 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021

Kayla Kim Votapek All these things found increased work in technical production have put anti-rac- and anti-racist ism work at the facilitation.

an anti-racist consultant – someone who comes in and takes a look to make sure the space is safe and anti-racist, and there are


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policies in place to make the staff, as well as the actors and creatives, feel valued and seen and heard. Someone wants to hire me

Farrah Southam The Re-Covery Upholstery Shop

to do that? 100%.

Farrah Southam (she/her), a costume

Do you plan to keep this new

craft artisan/dye supervisor who lives in

venture going?

Ashland, OR, was laid off from her job at

My anti-racism work has always been a

Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) in April

part of everything I do. I am just doing a

2020 after the pandemic hit. She began put-

LOT more of it now. So, I feel like no matter

ting her skills to work rehabbing furniture,

what my next steps are, whether in theatre

a move that gained even more momentum

or continuing this work, it’s always going

after the wildfires of September 2020 devas-

to be at the heart of what I do.

tated the areas just north of Ashland.

Any other thoughts you wish to

What new area or job did you move


into during the pandemic?

COVID-19 has allowed me the opportunity

During the pandemic, I started noticing all

to work with organizations and people

of the furniture being given away or tossed

that I would not have been able to if we

to the side of the curb. I had nothing to do,

were in person. I’ve worked with Stream

so I started teaching myself how to repair

On! Productions, where we had individu-

things: sanding, staining, painting, gluing,

als participate from India, the UK, Africa,

laying tile and upholstering. It wasn’t until

Australia and the U.S. I was able to meet so

the fire wiped out so much of our commu-

many incredible individuals that I would

nity that I shifted my skills exclusively to

not have been able to do a play with or

upholstery. As families were rebuilding, I

work with if it wasn’t for what happened.

tried to find furniture that I could fix up to

32 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021

Left: Farrah Southam discovered that her theatre skills translated well to upholstery. Above: One of the chairs she reupholstered during the pandemic.

give to them. As I got better at it, some items I would sell so that I could buy supplies and fix up more furniture to give away.

D. Connor McVey Civ6ChallengeLeague

How did this new enterprise use

D. Connor McVey (he/him), who lives in

your theatre skills?

Atlanta, GA, was the master electrician for

Much of my training in theatre involved

Actor’s Express and the resident lighting

patterning, draping, power tools, industrial

designer at Georgia Ensemble Theatre

sewing machines, knowledge of fabric – all

when the pandemic hit, prompting both

skills that translate to upholstery. The big-

companies to scale back on staff.

gest skill I have utilized from being a craft

What new area or job did you move

artisan is the problem-solving of unique

into during the pandemic?

challenges. Most of being a craft artisan is

I first got involved in creating content

trying to figure it out. There is no template

about, and community organizing around,

or pattern for much of what we do.

the video game Sid Meier’s Civilization VI

Has it been a successful venture?

several years ago as a semi-regular con-

Yes? The upholstery aspect has gone very

tributor to the CivCast podcast. CivCast

well. But figuring out the other parts of

has been off the air for a while now and,

owning a business has been the most intimi-

myself being out of work due to the COVID

dating. That whole “you don’t know what

pandemic, I decided to revive the podcast

you don’t know” is anxiety-inducing. Per-

and player group with my own new brand,

mits, insurance, licenses, bookkeeping – all

Civ6ChallengeLeague. The podcast is a

of this has taken time to learn. Trying to keep

combination of my thoughts on the game,

up with client needs, ordering supplies,

strategy tips and interviews with other

learning new upholstery skills with EVERY

content creators and community members.

project – these are easily transferable skills.

How did this new enterprise use

Do you plan to move back into

your theatre skills?

work in theatre as theatres begin

I already had some experience recording

opening again?

and editing audio, and my position at

I would probably go back to OSF if the

Actor’s Express also covers sound. I was

position becomes available and I was hired.

fairly comfortable when it came to setting

But if not, I do not plan on searching out

up the podcast. Streaming live content had

another theatre to work for. I like what I am

a bit of a learning curve, but it’s all pretty

doing at the moment.

simple once you get over the initial hump.

Do you plan to keep this new

I’ve used Vectorworks to design all the

venture going?

there was always downtime. I am currently people are willing to wait. Any other thoughts you wish to

Musical Theatre Design & Technical Production

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booking projects six months out, so most

I think we are going to find that theatre folk

Bachelor of Arts in Theatre


Yes, definitely. Even with the theatre going,

considered coping mechanisms for trauma.

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Connor McVey designed the logo for the Civ6ChallengeLeague using Vectorworks, software also used in theatrical design.


VISIT US AT NOVA.EDU/ARTS Email: Fall 2021 x Southern Theatre x 33

graphic assets for the podcast and gaming

better shows each season, accepting only

viding production opportunities to People

group, including logos and challenge

the contracts I truly want.

of Color and the LGBTQIA+ community.

announcement infographics.

Any other thoughts you wish to

What new area or job did you move

Has it been a successful venture?


into during the pandemic?

Yes. The player group has 645 members on

This has truly been an interesting experi-

After the show Love Quirks closed (the

Reddit and just under 400 on Discord, and

ment, and a fun one. I’m curious to see

day before we were scheduled to have our

both groups continue to grow. The podcast

which skills I’ve picked up during quaran-

opening night off-Broadway) and my next

is available on Spotify, Apple and Google,

tine can possibly be brought into my “real

year’s worth of theatre and TV contracts

among others, with returning listeners in

job.” I think I will likely always identify

fell to the wayside, I decided that I wanted

39 countries. I also helped organize and

primarily as a lighting designer and electri-

to make an impact on the entertainment

produce TheCivGive, a fundraiser that pro-

cian, but I also believe a diversity of skills

industry. There was a large outcry for

vided over $7,000 to children’s hospitals.

can only be a benefit. Flexibility is good.

change, both in the New York City theatre

Do you plan to move back into

community and in film and television. I felt

work in theatre as theatres begin opening again?

Erin Lamar

as a Black artist that it was my responsibil-

Amplified Voices Productions

ity to contribute to that change. I saw many

for the upcoming season!

Erin Lamar (he/him), an actor, director and

like – make verbal commitments to help

Do you plan to keep this new

choreographer originally from St. Peters-

make entertainment a more equitable and

venture going?

burg, FL, and now based in Brooklyn, NY,

safe industry for People of Color (POC).

Yes. It will mean a new and different work/

shifted gears after his acting work halted

However, I didn’t see any action. I decided

life balance for me and a different weekly

due to the pandemic – and the Black Lives

to start my own production company that

rhythm, but my hope is that eventually the

Matter movement gained new momentum.

utilized my skills to help amplify, celebrate

income from the podcast and livestreaming

He started a company offering career ser-

and expand the opportunities for POC and

on Twitch might enable me to do fewer,

vices, such as headshots and reels, and pro-

the LGBTQIA+ artists in the world.

Absolutely! I’m already accepting contracts

companies – production, casting and the

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Above: Erin Lamar. Right: Lamar films a scene for a short film his company produced, Can We Be Honest? How did this new enterprise use

Any other thoughts you wish to

your theatre skills?


My theatre training and experience is of use

My last thought would be to remember that

in everything that I do. I started directing

the last year of living was probably one of

after spending years as an acting teacher

the toughest years many of us will ever

and coach. Also, being intimately involved

experience in our lives. And, as challenging,

with so many theatre productions on both

painful and terrifying as it was, there was

sides of the table gave me the experience

also beauty in it, and I believe there is a lot

to start producing. A huge skill that my life

of positive change that will come from it. I

in theatre taught me, that is arguably the

wish anyone reading this would remember

most important skill, is networking. As a

to be kind to yourself, to have confidence

business owner it’s all about networking.

and to trust yourself. Everything we do is

Has it been a successful venture?

about the journey.

Well … what is success? The short answer


is, yes, it has been. But I use this distinction

in a way that has absolutely nothing to do

able and reopening plans in place at many

with the average person’s definition of the

theatres, the pandemic continues to disrupt

word “success.” The work that I am doing

the careers of numerous theatre artists.

now is so rewarding. The clients that I get

For now, many still need to be creative in

to shoot are beautiful artists of color with

making a living. When theatre returns to

varying sexual orientations and gender

its “new normal,” though, these artists will

identities. Their stories are valuable, and

bring valuable lessons to the stage, lessons

their voices need to be heard.

learned in unexpected places. n

Even with immunizations widely avail-

Do you plan to move back into work in theatre as theatres begin opening again?

I have every intention of continuing with my theatrical career. At the end of the day, it is my first love and what created the person that I’ve become. I don’t see a world in which I do not have that in my life anymore. Do you plan to keep this new venture going?

Absolutely! My new line of work and my theatre career are in so many ways parallel. If anything, I hope that it all comes together in an even bigger and more fulfilling way.

Thomas Rodman (he/him) is a professional lighting designer and an assistant professor of lighting and sound at Alabama State University in Montgomery. He formerly worked at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival for 22 years. Keith Arthur Bolden (he/him) is an associate professor of theatre and performance at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA. He also works regularly as an actor in theatre, film and television and as a theatre director.

- We stand for Diversity equity


318-257-2711 Fall 2021 x Southern Theatre x 35

Mike Brown Images

Above: Playback Memphis performers (left to right) Gabby Cole, Ann Wallace, Andriell Winston, Mario Hoyle, Ekpe Abioto and Joe Murphy bring an audience member’s story to life at a Memphis Matters public performance circa 2018. Cole and Winston were participants in the Performing the Peace program. They went on to become Apprentice Ensemble members who perform alongside Playback Memphis’ professional ensemble of artists.


Police and Former Prisoners Use Playback Theatre to Build Trust in Their Community


by Holly L. Derr

At a time when George Floyd has become a household name and police-community relations are strained across the country, a program in Memphis called Performing the Peace – which uses theatre to bridge the divide – may serve as a model for other cities.

Performing the Peace uses the playback theatre method to build empathetic, mindful relationships by

providing a space for police officers and people who were formerly incarcerated to hear each other’s stories, thereby learning to empathize with and trust one another. The program has already transformed not just the relationships among the individuals in the room, but also their attitudes when they encounter one another in the community.

Gabby Cole (she/her), a formerly incarcerated participant, went from distrusting all police to introducing

herself to officers on the street by asking, “You ever heard of playback?” 36 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021

“I still don’t trust some police officers, but I trust the ones that have been in Performing the Peace,” she said.

MEMPHIS SPOTLIGHT How the program began

DeAndre Brown of Lifeline to Success to “voluntell”

Virginia Murphy (she/her), executive director

seven police officers and seven people who were

of Playback Memphis, worked with others in the

formerly incarcerated to spend a few months doing

community to start Performing the Peace in 2014 in

playback theatre with Playback Memphis – and Per-

collaboration with the Memphis Police Department

forming the Peace was born.

and an organization called Lifeline to Success, a re-

Empathy helps change attitudes

entry program focusing on job and life skills for those

recently released from prison.

Peace describe the powerful impact of gathering in

‘In police and

prison culture,

In story after story, participants in Performing the

Murphy had founded Playback Memphis six years

a room with people against whom they previously

earlier – at a time, she noted in a February 2019 TEDx

held grudges and learning to be not only vulnerable

Talk, when civic self-esteem in Memphis was low,

enough to tell their own stories, but also open-minded

there is an

due at least in part to historical and ongoing issues

enough to empathize with the stories of others.

unspoken code.

of racial inequity. Her goal then was to bring a broad

Cole, who was not only incarcerated but also a

cross-section of Memphis residents together to share

victim of police violence, originally did not want to be

intimate stories, thereby building community and

in the same room with police officers but eventually

creating empathy. Playback Memphis’ diverse com-

began to see police officers as human beings facing

pany of performers grew quickly, receiving nonprofit

many of the same issues she does.

status in 2011. Today, the organization has five full-

time staff members, in addition to 13 actors who are

did not like it,” Cole said of her first encounters with

individually contracted by project.

police in Performing the Peace. “And I still had the

Playback Memphis’ work aims to promote

same attitude until I see one of the officers cry, and

mindfulness, nonviolent communication, cultural

that made me look at them different, like, okay, he

humility and social-emotional learning via playback

human just like me. He just got on a badge. He put

theatre, a technique through which audiences or

on a badge just like I put on a ‘badge’ because, when

group members are invited to tell their stories, which

I’m out here in these streets, I can’t laugh, I can’t cry,

are then improvisationally performed back to them

because that would show weakness. I got to be serious

by performers, often using movement, sound and

at all times.”

in your feelings


Chris Street (he/him), a Memphis police officer

The idea for Performing the Peace came to Murphy

and self-admitted former “jaded, stubborn, ignorant,

can get you

after a previous attempt at building community-

close-minded asshole,” said that he went from being


police relations led by a different institution had

suspicious of anyone who didn’t look like him and

collapsed under the weight of historical trauma and

everyone who had ever been in jail, to realizing that

- Virginia

mistrust, despite the number of people on both sides

everyone has a story to tell and a reason why they


invested in the project. For the two years that the

became who they are and that, as a police officer,


original program lasted, though, Murphy had the

listening to those stories with empathy and respect

chance to sit in the room with a number of police

is key to earning the empathy and respect of his com-


officers while they told their stories – where she made

munity in return.


a discovery.

“The officers that were in those circles had an

that prior to participating were gangsters, thieves and

extraordinary amount of insight and wisdom and

drug dealers,” Street said. “Once I was exposed to their

intelligence around what was deeply needed in terms

humanity, I realized that even though we all make

of addressing some of the very, very significant issues

choices and face the consequences, we don’t all get to

within police culture that are harmful to everyone,

choose from the same pool of options. Once we’re able

including police officers,” Murphy said in an inter-

to see each other as humans with the same basic needs


and desires, none of the other stuff matters.”

She also heard them say they became police officers

“I did not like it, I did not like it, I did not like it, I

Not only are you not allowed to express your feelings, except for anger – you are not allowed to even have feelings, because being

“In the course of the program, I got to know people

Today, all new Memphis police recruits attend a

because they wanted to make a difference. Deter-

half-day Cultural Humility and Empathic Listening

mined to make a place for that to happen, Murphy

training hosted by Playback Memphis where Street

persuaded Anthony Berryhill, then the acting deputy

shares how he learned to overcome his bias and

director of the Memphis Police Department, and

become a better police officer. Fall 2021 x Southern Theatre x 37

Changing a common culture

your job, survive in your world, requires

you to have to check your humanity at the

Much of the work done by the Performing

the Peace program is built on the notion that


police officers and people who have been

Playback theatre helps participants in


incarcerated have something in common:

the Performing the Peace program manage


Both have been immersed in cultures that

and express their emotions in a way that

discourage the expression of emotion. In

allows them to be heard and respected. For

her TEDx Talk about the program, Murphy

example, Cole once shared with the group

emphasized that commonality.

that she was not speaking to her mother,

“In police and prison culture, there is

which was causing her pain.

an unspoken code,” she said. “Not only

are you not allowed to express your feel-

to eye,” Cole said. “She was going through

ings, except for anger – you are not allowed

her cancer treatment at the time, and I

to even have feelings, because being in

didn’t know what to do. I’d been pray-

your feelings can

ing to God about daughter and mother

get you killed.

relationships. It was like, ‘What can I do

True. However,

to have a mother-daughter relationship

is it not also true

like I want to?’ They played it back

that our capacity

and did it exactly how I wanted them

for tenderness is

to. It brought tears to my eyes because

what makes us

it felt like they brung my story to light,

human? What a

everything that was happening. They

tension to hold!

didn’t miss a beat; they didn’t miss a sound.

To have to do

Everything was on point. That’s what really

Department of Theatre and Dance


CONTACT: 205-726-4111

Officer Chris Street.

“Me and my momma, we don’t see eye

Relate, Create, Collaborate

at Indiana University

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made me open up to ‘playback.’ ”

Memphis police

Furthermore, being vulnerable enough

officers saw an

to share feelings with one another builds

increase of 3

what Murphy calls “beloved community,”

points on aver-

in which members “lay down their discom-

age. Overall, both

fort, their judgment, their fear, their hatred

officers and ex-

of one another, of the other.”

o ffe n d ers s aw

Measuring the impact of playback

an 11% increase

in positive per-

Prior to the pandemic, Playback Mem-

phis worked with Dr. Robert Neimeyer

ception of one Gabby Cole.

from the Department of Psychology at the


University of Memphis to develop quanti-

The monthly in-person meetings of

tative data on the success of the program,

Performing the Peace have been on hold

using an assessment called the Integration

since the pandemic began, but the new-

of Stressful Life Experiences Scale to mea-

recruit training program led by Playback

sure participants’ abilities to make meaning

Memphis and officer Chris Street has

out of distressing life experiences.


“Meaning-making abilities”– defined

“The recruit training is in its infancy,

by psychologist James Gillies as “retaining,

and you cannot change culture overnight,”

reaffirming, revising or replacing elements

Street said. “It takes time and perseverance.

of their orienting system to develop more

Memphis is a racially divided city, and it

nuanced, complex and useful systems”

has been for many, many years, so change

– went up 13 points on the scale for Life-

won’t be easy. But it will happen. It has to

line participants (ex-offenders), while


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Murphy acknowledges that playback

camps. She believes the camp serves an

theatre cannot solve the collective, histori-

important function for young people.

cal trauma of racism, but she believes it can

provide a space for communities to unpack

of places we could go, but Memphis has

“When I was coming up, we had a lot

that trauma together.

taken a lot of the fun stuff away from the

“We know that we are transformed

kids,” Cole said. “That’s what made us see

by the witnessing practice, by gathering

if we could have something for them to do

together and courageously taking time to

for the summer, something that will keep

share our inner lives with one another and

them in a safe space, teach them something

embody one another’s stories,” Murphy

different. And they actually taught us. I’m

said. “And we find that that unlocks heal-

34, and I can still learn from a 5-year-old.”

ing and transformation and joy in a really

Coronavirus and beyond

deep way.”

The original ex-offenders in Performing

forced into virtual space by the pandemic,

the Peace found it so impactful that they

Murphy said, because doing playback

formed an Apprentice Ensemble, which

via Zoom meant that actors and audience

helped develop another program for Play-

members from all over the world could

back Memphis called Be the Peace, a summer

participate. The enforced absence of live

camp for rising sixth graders that helps

performance opportunities also gave Play-

them learn to talk about and express them-

back Memphis an opportunity to do the

selves in healthy ways. Playback Memphis

anti-oppression training, organizational

hosted it as a hybrid camp in summer 2021.

analysis and self-analysis called for by all

Apprentice Ensemble members like

arts institutions in the wake of the 2020

Gabby Cole are paid to facilitate these

murder of George Floyd in police custody.

Playback theatre adapted well to being


DEPARTMENT OF THEATRE ARTS Develop your craft and sharpen your skills as you prepare for a career in theatre arts. Gain the hands-on theatrical experience you need through our academic productions and even jump-start your career with the opportunity to earn professional credits through our very own Alluvion Stage Company. Benefit from our tradition of original works— integrated from start to finish which can offer you a comprehensive stage experience. Choose from a BFA in Musical Theatre, a BFA in Acting, a BA or BS in Theatre Arts. And now, any major can add on a minor in Dance and Theatre Arts. | | @ lutowertheater

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BFA in Acting for Theatre, Film and Television LIVE AND LEARN IN THE HEART OF NEW YORK AT LIU BROOKLYN, BROOKLYN, IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE NEW GROUP. In partnership with The New Group, a renowned theater company in NYC, LIU Brooklyn connects students with Broadway, Off-Broadway, OffOff-Broadway, regional theater companies, and Manhattan film, video, and webcast industries. Learn foundational techniques and engage in a two-year intensive on-camera training.

This fall, Playback Memphis is offer-

ing Practicing with Playback, free sessions

was the willingness of people who histori-

“What attracted me to telling that story

that teach basic playback tools, as well as

cally hated each other or distrusted each

continuing to offer Cultural Humility and

other … to sit down in a room and talk,”

Empathic Listening training not just to

Sweazy said. “I feel like we’ve never been

Memphis police, but also to others in law

further away from that as people, as a soci-

enforcement, healthcare and education.

ety. This movie is scary because it’s digging

The company has also been collabo-

into stuff that’s raw – it’s been intimidating

rating with writer and director Melissa

and scary for me to put it out there. But

Sweazy of Running Pony Productions on

what I keep coming back to is: That’s the

a documentary about Performing the Peace,

work that playback does. It is the willing-

which will be shown to the Playback com-

ness to get messy, to have painful, uncom-

munity and submitted to social justice film

fortable conversations, because that’s the

festivals in 2022.

only way we’re going to get through this.

Sweazy saw her first Playback Memphis

We’ve been trying to go around it and we’ve

performance in 2010 and was “in awe of the

been trying to ignore it, but we have to go

work Virginia was doing. When I started

through it.” n

going to their performances, I felt like I was

Network with industry professionals and participate in master classes with actors performing in the New Group’s Works.

witnessing something I had never really seen before, seeing theatre as therapy.”

Prepare headshots, résumés, reels, personal website and social media.

When her company decided it wanted

to produce a video for a nonprofit doing important work in the community, Performing the Peace was a perfect fit.

To find out more & apply, visit:

Holly L. Derr is the artistic director and head of graduate directing at the University of Memphis. The founding artistic director of SKT, Inc., she has directed for numerous theatres. Her writing credits include The Atlantic, HowlRound, Ms. Magazine, Slate and Bitch. O: (910) 794-1664

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Zack Orsborn


Above: Elise, Liliane, Tumaini and Aline (left to right) – young people originally from Africa – perform 2019’s Stories of Home.

Harnessing the Power of Immigrant Stories A theatre artist shares his personal story about a program he directs that is putting refugees’ stories centerstage. b y Ta y l o r S t . J o h n

‘Oftentimes, immigrants and refugees have someone else telling their story.’ - Camela Echols-Blackmon (she/her), executive director, Refugee Empowerment Program


In Memphis, TN, a theatre and a social services organization have come together to break that mold, engaging immigrant and refugee youth in telling their own stories in their own words.

This theatrical storytelling program began three years ago, when two organizations that might seem like

unlikely partners came together. The Refugee Empowerment Program (REP), which Camela Echols-Blackmon directs, is a small (but mighty) social services organization and after-school program that exists to empower immigrants and refugees across the city by providing education and resources. Across town, the Orpheum Theatre Group is a nonprofit theatre presenting touring Broadway shows and offering educational and community engagement programming that uses the arts as a tool for transformation throughout the mid-South.

44 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021


The organizations’ collaboration resulted in From

Where I Stand, a program I direct in which youth from REP engage with Orpheum teaching artists over the course of four months to share their lived experiences, culminating in a theatrical performance that puts the voices of these young people centerstage.

Bertrand (he/him), a youth participant, describes

the impact of the program: “I felt like I had someone who was listening to me. Every day that I came here, I didn’t come out the same way I came. It made me feel like I was ready to take on anything in life.”

As artists, we talk a lot about collaboration, but the

people we don’t often invite into the collaboration (at least until the very last moment) are the very people Zack Orsborn

at the heart of it: the communities we serve. What would happen if our communities were invited not just to observe artistic products, but to actively collaborate in making theatre that speaks to our unique people, geography and moment? Over the course of the Orpheum’s collaboration with REP, I have learned about the joys and challenges of community partnership and how harnessing the power of storytelling

Naomi, who came to Memphis from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, helped spur the growth of the program after sharing her story in a pilot version of From Where I Stand.

has the potential to amplify the diverse voices of our

her in response. In that moment, I imagine they saw,

community and empower us all.

perhaps for the first time, someone that reflected their

How the program began

lived experience representing the identity of Memphis

Community partnership is all about relation-

on our stage. Seeing Naomi’s performance connect

ships, and relationships are built on stories: stories of

so viscerally with the audience made me ask: How

moments we share together and stories we tell each

could we adapt the program to focus on the specific

other to share who we are. The story of our partner-

needs of the immigrant and refugee community?

ship with REP began with one middle school teen:

Strengthening the partnership


In fall 2019, we answered that question as we

Naomi (she/her) was selected by REP to be part

embarked on creating a production specific to the

of a pilot version of From Where I Stand. For this pilot,

lived experiences of the youth that REP serves. This

the Orpheum invited teens from different partner

meant agreeing on shared goals that could support

organizations across the city to come together to per-

the missions of both organizations. As we built our

form their stories and hear diverse perspectives they

relationship, Echols-Blackmon made it clear to us that

might not otherwise encounter. She participated in the

“REP is Americans walking alongside the immigrant

hope that she could use the experience to cultivate her

and refugee community. This is collective work.” We

English language skills and find new ways to express

listened to the leadership and young people to co-

herself. On the night of performance, REP pulled up

create a play that would meet our shared goals: to

in a bus packed with Naomi’s friends and classmates.

create an outlet for creative expression, honor their

We held the performance to get everyone seated, and

homelands and cultures, allow the participants to

I remember clocking the moment in my head: “Wow.

practice proficiency in speaking English, and provide

These people are committed.” To bring a bus filled

tools for processing the complex emotions that they

with people to support one young person demon-

have encountered.

strated how important this platform was to REP.

Naomi performed her story (the memory of a car

from asking youth to share stories based on the ques-

crash in Africa) and sang aloud in Swahili. I watched

tion: “Where is home?“At first, there was resistance

from the back of the house as three rows of young

to telling stories because many of the stories reveal

refugees heard Naomi’s song and sang it back to

traumatic and challenging experiences, but also

Top: Bertrand, one of the youth participants from Africa. Bottom: Camela Echols-Blackmon, executive director of the Refugee Empowerment Program.

The production we created, Stories of Home, sprang

Fall 2021 x Southern Theatre x 45

because the participants feared that was

beans with their friends, how their parents

One of the keys to the success of our

the only story we were interested in hear-

survived the genocide, leaving friends and

partnership was that the Orpheum encour-

ing from them. As artists, we had to lay a

family back home, and what they thought

aged those telling the stories to guide the

foundation of trust to reassure these young

America would be like versus what they

development themselves.

storytellers that we weren’t looking for one

experienced when they arrived:

“It was important to me that you all

kind of story, but instead were interested in


didn’t come in and say: ‘Here’s what you

the story they wanted to share.

ELISE: It was exciting because everyone

should say, and this is what people will

In beginning these conversations, we

used to talk about America.

want to hear,’ ” Echols-Blackmon said. “You

found it was essential that the questions

ALINE: America! There’s airplanes and

all took the time to get to know our young

we asked and the themes we explored

two-story buildings! And that’s where we’re


started from a place of openness, so that

gonna live! There’s gonna be money in the

Building relationships takes time and

everyone had an entry point to explore

trees! You can pluck the money! The food – it

effort – trust doesn’t happen overnight.

their own experience. In Stories of Home,

comes to YOU!

But if we really care about diversifying

the theme of home could be explored from

TUMAINI: When you go to America, you’re

our stages and providing platforms for

a multitude of viewpoints: “home” as in

gonna find money on your bed.

new voices, we have to prioritize building

“home of origin,” “home” as in “where you

LILIANE: When we got to the house, I was

relationships and allowing ourselves to be

currently live,” “home” as in “where you

like … I thought we had got lost. I’m not

surprised by what we learn in the process.

feel at home” and others.

trying to be rude or anything, but I thought

Curiosity in collaboration

This group of young people came to

we were going to live in the sky. No eating

Staying curious as we build relation-

Memphis when they were very young, but

beans, no washing dishes, no wearing shoes.

ships in community is about mutual men-

they still remembered their home countries

Things didn’t look the same way I expected

torship. I learned about mutual mentorship

of Uganda and Rwanda. In the 2019 pro-

them to look. But I was happy because I

while working with Cornerstone Theater,

duction of Stories of Home, they told stories

thought my mom and dad would never

a Los Angeles-based theatre that has trav-

about waiting in line for water, stealing

suffer again.

eled the country making theatre with/by/


University of North Carolina at Charlotte A student-centered community-engaged education in theatre.

Bachelor of Arts in Theatre—concentrations in Applied Theatre; Design/Tech; Directing, Dramaturgy, and Dramatic Writing; Performance; and Theatre Education (K-12).


Fostering “cross-trained artists” prepared for the world of professional theatre as well as any profession that places value on imaginative thinking, collaboration, and communication skills.


46 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021


@unccarts |

for communities. Paula Donnelly (she/

guide the young people through experi-

speaking assumptions like: “The world

her), Cornerstone’s director of engagement,

ences that allow them to discover, while

thinks refugees are people who steal jobs”

notes that a mutual learning relationship is

the youth offer expertise from their lives

or “They think I’m a terrorist” with the real

a critical component for success in working

that contribute to the play we are creating

stories of their lives – stories of discovering

with communities.

together. For example, in Stories of Home,

their love for math, of how their family cel-

“A lot of times, people do applied the-

teaching artist Santyria Johnson (she/her)

ebrates Eid each year, or of learning English

atre or they work with underserved com-

choreographed movement that fused tradi-

by watching Criminal Minds on TV.

munities because they want to help them,”

tional African dances taught to her by the

Donnelly said. “There’s a colonial kind of

youth with contemporary movement from

gee Portraits explored how having a yellow/

dynamic to it. What I think is more valu-

her own repertoire. This fusion allowed

black tooth is seen differently by her Ameri-

able and more authentic is when there’s a

everyone to contribute and create some-

can friends than by her African friends:

mutuality in the relationship. To be open

thing that none of us could have achieved

EUNICE: You see this tooth? When I was

and sincere about trying to learn from them

in isolation.

two years old, playing with my friends,

as well as offering whatever resources you

Seeing full and complex people

my brother came out from nowhere and he


In the Orpheum’s next collaboration

pushed me and part of my tooth fell out.

This kind of community engagement

with REP, Refugee Portraits, we started with

Now, when I take a picture, it looks black

isn’t about charity. It’s about leveraging

the question: “Who am I?”

from far away or yellow close up. I don’t

your artistic skills to work in tandem with

Young people told stories about the

like it, but I can’t change it. Sometimes

communities so that you can learn from

assumptions and prejudice they encounter

my African friends tease me – my tooth,

one another. No one is an empty vessel,

in their day-to-day lives and how those

my forehead. But it’s different. I just say,

and everyone comes into a process with

assumptions do not accurately reflect their

“It’s African beauty.” And we laugh. At

resources and experiences that can be built

lived experiences. They wrote poems and

my school, there is a group of Africans and

upon for the benefit of the whole.

shared the false messaging they encounter.

a group of Americans. They are separated.

As artists, we offer artistic skills and

They don’t sit together at lunch. The Ameri-

In this production, we juxtaposed them

Eunice’s (she/her) story in 2021’s Refu-

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Fall 2021 x Southern Theatre x 47

that separate us and honor our own lived experiences. As Johnson says, “It is my hope that these young people are impacted in such a way that they feel empowered, encouraged and equipped to boldly take up space in this world.” Radical adaptation

When our production of Refugee Portraits

was interrupted by the pandemic, we chose to reimagine the show as a podcast. We recorded stories and edited them into an Zack Orsborn

audio production featuring interviews with

Eunice recounts, in 2021’s Refugee Portraits, the different treatment she received from American kids for having a discolored tooth.


out the pandemic, but radical adaptation has always been at the heart of our collaboration with REP. Whether scheduling a performance at a time second-shift parents can attend or shifting our rehearsals to be on-site at REP, our partnership is constantly

EUNICE: People started bullying me. In

flexing to meet the needs of the community.

Africa, I used to have a gang of friends and

I never change schools. No one ever mess

ing first and adapting to work WITH a com-

with me. They never tease me. My tooth was

munity to address its needs and the goals of

normal to everyone.

the partnership – even if that means making

“True community engagement is listen-

sacrifices or reinventing some of our own

reveal pictures of the young people as full

practices,” McGrath said.

human beings beyond the headlines and

In my time leading the From Where I

prejudice. Jennifer McGrath (she/her),

Stand program, my collaborators have

Orpheum’s vice president of education

taught me how to be a better artist and

and community engagement, believes that

human being. I have gained an expanded

sharing such stories is a moral imperative.

sense of possibility by engaging meaning-

“For far too long, we have centered the

fully with the community. As artists and

stories of people in power and pushed

theatres across the region look to expand

others to the margins, which hurts all of

their community engagement initiatives

us,” McGrath said. “When we do not hear

and diversify their stages, I hope they will

a diversity of stories, we are not hearing a

go beyond checking the obligatory box and

diversity of experiences and viewpoints.

be moved to honor the tremendous human

We are not being pushed to expand our

potential that our communities offer. Our

thinking or challenge outdated ideas.”

stories show us both how we are the same

When we are able to engage with

and how we are beautifully different. We

members of our community in ways that

need both to move forward. n

For more information:

we begin to better understand who is actu-

Program of Theatre & Dance at the George Washington University Corcoran School of the Arts & Design 814 20th St NW, 3rd Floor Washington, D.C. 20052 202.994.8072

ally a part of the communities we live in

48 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021

have had to adapt their models through-

AMERICAN KID: Were you born like that?

recognize them as complex human beings,

202.994.8072 • WASHINGTON, DC •

Apple podcasts). Arts organizations across the world

can kids be asking me:

These stories-turned-plays worked to


the young people (available on Spotify and

and serve. In turn, when we are able to tell stories that recognize people fully, we begin to break down the barriers of polarization

Taylor St. John (he/him) directs the From Where I Stand program in connection with his job as the education and engagement specialist for Orpheum Theatre Group in Memphis, TN.

start a movement

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The SMU Meadows Division of Theatre alumni do it all: perform on Broadway, star in TV shows and movies, start groundbreaking theatre companies, write award-winning plays, push the limits of directing and design, and continue to shape America’s artistic landscape. SMU Meadows Theatre is a

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Southern Methodist University (SMU) will not discriminate in any employment practice, education program, education activity, or admissions on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, genetic information, or veteran status. SMU’s commitment to equal opportunity includes nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The Executive Director for Access and Equity/Title IX1 Coordinator is designated to handle inquiries regarding the nondiscrimination policies, including the prohibition of sex discrimination under Title IX. The Executive Director/Title IX Coordinator may be reached at the Perkins Administration Building, Room 204, 6425 Boaz Lane, Dallas, TX 75205, 214-768-3601, Inquiries regarding the application of Title IX may also be directed to the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education. 1 Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1688.

2021 SETC Getchell Award P L AY W R I G H T

2021 Getchell Award Winner Angela J. Davis Explores the Overlooked Heroism of Rwanda’s One-Day Female President Interview by Laura King


ngela J. Davis (she/her), pictured at right, won the 2021 Charles M. Getchell New Play Award for AGATHE, a play inspired by the woman who became Rwanda’s president for just 14 hours on the first night of the

Rwandan genocide. In 2020, AGATHE was selected for the Playhouse on the Square New Works Series, The Landing Theatre New American Voices Awards and The Road Theatre Company Summer Festival. The play is a finalist for the Woodward/ Newman Award, the Jane Chambers Award and the London-based Sohaya Visions RAFTA Award, as well as a Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference semifinalist and the winning full-length play of the Santa Barbara PlayFest Festival of New American Plays. Excerpts of the digital reading of AGATHE, directed by Saundra McLain for The Road Theatre Company, were presented at the 2021 SETC Virtual Convention, followed by a Q&A session with Todd Wm. Ristau of the Hollins Playwright’s Lab. Below is an interview with the playwright. LAURA KING: How did you come to

theatre over digital platforms, there was a

critically important to me to write plays


recognition that the art form is designed for

that affirm something. With AGATHE, I was

ANGELA J. DAVIS: I have a longstand-

living, pulsating performance and for envi-

drawn to her courage, her big-heartedness,

ing love of theatre and for language itself,

ronments in which the audience, the per-

and the reality that her story was largely

and playwriting embraces both. I studied

formers and the creative team are breathing


comparative literature at Stanford and was

the same air. Perhaps another way of saying

KING: I see you are also a poet and essay-

fortunate to have professors who shared a

this is that theatre demands our “presence,”

ist. Do you have a favorite form? Do you

love for theatre, language and poetry. Later,

even if we’re not really there. I also love the

think playwrights should experiment with

I studied at UCLA and took classes at the

interrelationship between theatre and lan-

other forms?

New School for Social Research, where I

guage itself. I’m not sure I have a least favor-

DAVIS: My priority is definitely playwrit-

was fortunate to encounter the playwright

ite part of playwriting, but it would have

ing, but I love all three of these genres

and writing professor Robert Montgomery,

to be something involving the headaches

– reading and writing them! And I think

who remains a cherished friend, mentor

of printing, copying, three-hole punching,

there’s definitely an affinity there. Poetry,

and dramaturg. In an uncanny coincidence,

etc. The writer Barbara Tuchman once said

playwriting and essays all involve an act

Bob’s classmate and friend from Yale

that the secret to her success was to be “in

of communication, and all three genres

Drama School, Steven Robman, directed

love with” her subject matter. I thought this

demand economy of language and imme-

a workshop of my play The Spanish Prayer

was incredibly insightful and honest, and


Book and later directed the radio produc-

it’s true of my own writing efforts. There

KING: You were an assistant U.S. attorney

tion of Clara and Serra and the Talking Bear.

is, of course, a “work” element to writing,

and now are a judicial officer in California.

Both are close, careful and insightful

but I think “being in love with” your subject

How does your training and your work in

readers – what a playwright needs most.

matter gets you through the work.

the legal system inform your writing? How

I’ve continued to learn in part through

KING: What types of plays do you write?

do you fit writing into your busy schedule?

my engagement with the Antaeus Theatre

DAVIS: It’s extremely important to me to

DAVIS: I’ve been fortunate to have a pro-

Company Playwrights Lab. I believe that

create solid roles for women, including

fessional life that I truly love and that has

writing and literature are lifelong passions

older women and women of color, and to

provided me with intellectual stimulation,

– a continuing education in the best sense

create stories that are compelling. I write

as well as opportunities for writing on a

of those words – and my study of literature,

both dramatic and comedic plays and feel

different plane. Of course, there are differ-

writing and theatre is definitely ongoing.

there’s a holistic interplay between the

ences between legal writing and writing

KING: What are your favorite and least

two and in simply going from the process

plays and poetry, but I believe that the

favorite parts of playwriting?

of writing comedy to writing drama and

best lawyers and judges are fundamen-

DAVIS: I love that theatre, by definition,

vice versa. AGATHE is, of course, dramatic

tally humanists and individuals who love

is intended to be “alive.” Even this year,

and rooted in historical truths, including

language. Interestingly, many of the great

when we were forced to make and consume

profoundly tragic truths. That said, it’s

Spanish poets and dramatists originally

50 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021

trained as lawyers. It also fascinates me that many tremendous writers also engaged in professional “day jobs.” Chekhov and Wil-

Charles M. Getchell Award: The Backstory b y To d d W m . R i s t a u

liam Carlos Williams were, of course, physicians, as is the novelist Khaled Hosseini. The

knew exactly what she was talking about

SETC has a more than 70-year history of nurturing new plays and playwrights. A 1949 proposal to “try out new scripts” became in 1957 the New Play Project, which continues today as the Charles M. Getchell New Play Contest under the auspices of the Playwriting Committee. One winning play is selected each year to receive the Charles M. Getchell New Play Award. The winning playwright receives a reading at the SETC Convention, in addition to $1,000 and an all-expenses-paid trip to the convention, so they can be part of the rehearsal and receive feedback from a professional respondent. The winning play is also considered for online publication, as well as publication of an excerpt and an interview with the playwright in Southern Theatre magazine. (See Page 53 for details on entering.)

with A Room of One’s Own – and finding a

But who is Charles M. Getchell? And how did the award come to be

space where you’re truly away from phone

named for him?

calls, social media and other distractions

Born August 22, 1909 in Gardiner, ME, Charles Munro Getchell (above) used to say that he “had theatre in his blood.” He attended Hallowell High School, followed by the University of Maine at Orono, where he earned a BA in 1930 and an MA in 1938. During those years, he developed a passion for the theatre. His yearbook describes Getchell as an English major but mentions “reading theatre magazines” kept him “pretty busy.” This is likely good-natured ribbing, as he did a lot more than read about theatre. He performed in plays, worked backstage, hung lights and painted scenery. When World War II broke out, Getchell served stateside in the Navy, and then pursued his studies at the University of Wisconsin, where he served as an actor, technician and director for the Wisconsin Players and received a PhD in English in 1946. That same year, he applied for what he thought would be the perfect job: chair of the Speech and Theatre Department at the University of Mississippi. This would be his one and only university position after finishing college, and he devoted his life to building up the theatre program at Ole Miss, bringing it (and himself) to national prominence. He championed including musicals in the university season planning, and rumor has it he “sealed the deal” by choosing Carousel as the first spring musical because it was a “great favorite” with the chair of the Music Department. His students adored him and frequently remarked, “Dr. G taught me everything I know about theatre.” In 1963, Charles was elected President of SETC and, two weeks later, died unexpectedly from a heart attack. His sudden death was a shock to everyone. As a testimonial to Getchell’s devotion and service to the arts, SETC passed a resolution that its New Play Project would forever include the words “in memory of Charles M. Getchell,” naming its centerpiece contest after him. Getchell was married to Todd Wm. Ristau is the founder and Irene M. Getchell (1915-2001). program director of the Playwright’s Their children, Ellen G. Bierlein Lab at Hollins University in Virginia. and Charles M. Getchell Jr., He is a past chair of SETC’s Charles M. Getchell New Play Contest and its contributed memories and Playwriting Committee. archival material for this article.

playwright and screenwriter Christopher Demos-Brown is also a lawyer and, of course, so are many prolific novelists. Wallace Stevens and T. S. Eliot are additional examples. As for finding time for writing, I have to again invoke Barbara Tuchman. If you’re “in love with your subject matter,” you will make time for the writing. Of course, there are times when it’s particularly challenging, but, generally: early mornings, weekends, lunch hours by myself. I also think solitude is important – Virginia Woolf

is important. Lastly, Robert Kennedy is credited with saying, “If you want to get something done, give it to someone who is busy” – in other words, people who have a lot on their plate are, in some instances, the most productive. I see some truth in that. There’s a reality that having demands on your time forces you to be efficient and productive in order to make sure you get to the stuff that’s really most important. KING: Any particular influences on your writing? DAVIS: I’m a huge believer that the best writers are also voracious readers. I’m somewhat on board with Harold Bloom’s assessment that “there is one god and his name is William Shakespeare,” and I find myself going back to the Shakespeare plays and sonnets over and over again, but I also have a longstanding love for the great Spanish writers (I studied Spanish and French literature) and still remember being blown away by my first encounter with 16th-century Spanish poetry and plays – the richness of the imagery, the extraordinary musicality of the language, and all the elaborate, multi-syllable rhyme schemes. I also love the modern Spanish writers (Borges is (Continued on Page 54)

For more history on the award: Read the article by Chip Egan in the Winter-Spring 1999 Southern Theatre online at Fall 2021 x Southern Theatre x 51

2021 SETC Getchell Award P L AY

AGATHE by Angela J. Davis

AGATHE was produced over Zoom for three festivals in 2020. Above, Amir Abdullah, Inger Tudor and Paris Perrault (clockwise, from top left) appear in The Road Theatre Company’s summer festival production of AGATHE.



AGATHE by Angela J. Davis is inspired by the overlooked story of Agathe Uwilingiyimana, a university professor by training, who will unexpectedly serve as Rwanda’s president for just 14 hours and will accomplish a miracle during one of the darkest moments in history, the first night of the Rwandan genocide.

Kigali, Rwanda; April 1994.

CAST OF CHARACTERS AGATHE: female, Rwandan university professor and advocate for girls’ education. CARRIE: female, Canadian junior U.N. peacekeeper. ANNOUNCER: male, Rwandan entertainer given to racist exhortations and hate speech. ADDIE: male, Canadian leader in U.N. peacekeeping force. MBAYE: Senegalese army captain, on loan to the U.N. LUCAS: AGATHE’s 18-year-old son, scowling and restless.

52 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021

FOR PRODUCTION Angela J. Davis © 2021 by Angela J. Davis

EXCERPT From AGATHE, Act One, Scenes 4-5 Scene 4 ANNOUNCER: (Riffing, perhaps moving about semi-dark stage, unseen to AGATHE): When the enemy’s adept, they incrementally infect! Like a protean Napoleon, they conquer and divide, then stick your enemy inside! On everyone they trample; I give you one example: It’s evident embellishment, this feminist vice president!

I don’t mean to be pejorative, but she released a torrent of atrocious cockroaches! Overtaking your schools, remaking your rules! She be “callin’ for benevolence”?! We be crawlin’ with a pestilence! Ma’am, don’t act like you’re clueless; when you already knew this: For certain things to be rectified, Someone’s gotta bring the insecticide! (shifting tone for station identification) Just keep those dials tuned to RTLM. Your true news authority and voice of the majority. ANNOUNCER retreats; lights up on: CARRIE (now dry-haired, blue-capped) beside AGATHE, taking in the magnificent Rwandan terrain. CARRIE luxuriates in a deep, outdoor breath. CARRIE: The cake was divine. AGATHE: Micro-crystalline structures, carbon dioxide, and calefaction! CARRIE: What – ? AGATHE: The chemistry of baking! CARRIE: Oh! AGATHE: And the indelible gastronomic imprint of French imperialism.

CARRIE: Hm. (a beat.) In your house, I – I was looking at the pictures from – from the ceremony when you were sworn in – AGATHE: Ahh – my husband insisted on framing those. CARRIE: President Habryimana – he – he’s not in the photos. AGATHE: Such an observant eye! People will suspect you of spying. CARRIE: Oh! – I was just – I mean, I’m sorry if that’s – AGATHE: – but what you observe shows that you still have much to learn about my country. CARRIE: (lowering her voice) I know that he’s a dictator. AGATHE: A dictator who signs a peace treaty. CARRIE: And jails journalists and “disappears” political enemies. AGATHE: Shhhhhh! Carrie! We love the president! All citizens do! He wins ninety-nine percent of the ballots every election. For decades! Amazing, no?! CARRIE: These – um – “rallies” that he has? AGATHE: “Rallies”?! Please! Our president has PAGEANTS! All must attend, raising their arms! (demonstrating; raising her right arm) Great leader! Savior of Rwanda! Peace and prosperity? He invented them! So of course he “supports” the power-sharing coalition. CARRIE: A charade. AGATHE: Carrie! Listen to me! Our president is a man who drinks Chardonnay in Geneva, and whose wife uses foreign aid money to go bingeshopping in Paris. BUT: he plays along. He will say to a television camera that he “embraces” a peaceful solution. He is not – how do you say – “hard line.” CARRIE: But – AGATHE: (perhaps instinctively looking over her shoulder) The army. The Hutu power youth. The Radio RTLM. That is hard line. People who dream of an “Armageddon” against the Tutsis. CARRIE: So – wait – what are you – are you saying – ? (AGATHE gives CARRIE a look, perhaps putting up a hand to say, “stop.”) AGATHE: I am saying it is good – very good – that UNAMIR protects our president. If anything should happen to him, the extremists will move forward! You can count on it! CARRIE: Earlier today – when I was outside your door – I heard the radio – you – you had on RTLM. AGATHE: The country’s best and most excellent information! CARRIE: Lies and hate speech? AGATHE: They give you a temperature reading of sorts. CARRIE: It’s getting hotter. AGATHE: So you are also following the weather reports. (CARRIE nods.) Barometric pressure sometimes gets very high around here. CARRIE: And they’re already – the masu thrown at you – AGATHE: That?! – I’ll just add it to my “collection.” CARRIE: (overlapping) “Collect–” AGATHE: Quite an impressive variety of things thrown at me – sewer pipes, trenching shovels,

cricket bats, livestock equipment. Not to mention the hate mail, the extraordinarily ungrammatical death threats – (AGATHE lifts her dress: large scars across her legs. CARRIE gasps.) CARRIE: They – they beat you? AGATHE: That is “political dialogue” in my country. Very succinct. And no ambiguity. (a pause.) CARRIE: Did you – did you and your husband ever talk about . . . AGATHE: Leaving? (CARRIE nods; AGATHE gestures toward their surroundings.) Look around. What do you see? CARRIE: (taking it in; the view is stunning) Honestly – AGATHE: Just tell me: What does it look like? CARRIE: Paradise. AGATHE: (inhaling) And? CARRIE: The air . . . wonderful. AGATHE: Did they give you a briefing – on that? CARRIE: No. I – I – no one tells you that. AGATHE: There’s no oil here. No shoreline. No minerals. Definitely no “strategic American interest.” Before colonization, there wasn’t even an alphabet. Rwanda? It is a land of nothing. Barely even a country. CARRIE: Hm. AGATHE: But you will never see a more heavenly place, or people. AGATHE and CARRIE continue their walk; a magnificent Rwandan sunset. Apart from them, the ANNOUNCER emerges, perhaps dancing across the stage, riffing: ANNOUNCER: Wake up from your slumbering, shake off all the blubbering, in case you were wondering, the MAJORITY is thundering! So get up from your idling, and watch for the lightening! The cavalry is drumming near, A NEW DAWN is coming here! Scene 5 UNAMIR headquarters, hours later. ADDIE holds a fax in disgust as MBAYE looks over his shoulder. MBAYE: “Stand down”? ADDIE: CYNICAL CHICKEN SHIT BASTARDS! MBAYE: Now, now. This is the American government! They are “free and democratic” chickenshit bastards! ADDIE: They control the U.N.! MBAYE: And without skin in the game!

Americans – you really have to hand it to them. ADDIE: They can do SOMETHING – MBAYE: They don’t want another Somalia – ADDIE: Somalia’s a whole other universe! Over two thousand kilometers away! It’s — MBAYE: (cutting him off) HEY! I have been to New York. 42nd Street! The Broadway musical AND, with no intentional irony, the United Nations Street! ADDIE: So what?! MBAYE: So I can tell you: when you are in New York, Los Angeles is next door to San Francisco! And, Africa?! HA! All African countries are spitting distance from each other – ADDIE: (waving MBAYE off, reading more of the fax with increasing alarm) JESUS CHRIST! They’re ordering us to tell the Rwandan army everything we know. MBAYE: (preparing to leave) Time to go – ADDIE: What are you – you can’t disobey direct orders – MBAYE: Never! ADDIE: Mbaye – if you’re thinking of – MBAYE: Hey! – Black Africans do not “think.” Just ask the U.N.! ADDIE: You can’t ask me to “look the other way” – MBAYE: (continuing to gather his things) NEVER! I mean, if that’s what I wanted you to do, I would never ask – ADDIE: (sighs) What am I not happening to see? MBAYE: ME! Returning to my post! I actually like it there! The dream of every third-world soldier! To be stationed indefinitely as an “observer” in a luxury hotel! (checking his wallet) You wouldn’t – er – do you have any cash? ADDIE: For – ? MBAYE: Cigarettes! Universal currency in wartime! And no one ever wants to extend credit during a genocide. ADDIE: (opening his wallet) How much? MBAYE: Twenties, hundreds – ADDIE: Canadian? MBAYE: (nodding) Next best thing to American. ADDIE: (tosses wallet to MBAYE) Leave my I.D. MBAYE: I suppose there’s not enough of a resemblance – (all but emptying the wallet) Just wish I knew what these racist clowns were waiting for. ADDIE: Mbaye – I was wondering: do you think they’ve already started? n

Are You a Future Getchell Award Winner? SETC’s Charles M. Getchell New Play Award recognizes worthy new scripts written by individuals who live or go to school in the SETC region or by SETC members who live in or outside the region. Entries are accepted annually between March 1 and June 1. The winner receives a $1,000 cash award and an all-expenses-paid trip to the SETC Convention, where both a critique and a reading of the winning play are held. More info: Visit

Fall 2021 x Southern Theatre x 53

(Continued from Page 51)

instrumental in rescuing Agathe’s children,

a huge favorite), and I haven’t even started

also perished in the 1994 genocide and was

on the contemporary playwrights I admire.

an irresistibly theatrical character. I first

In college, I took a course on 20th-century

wrote a one-act, which was workshopped

British playwrights and, of course, became

at a few professional theatre companies, but

enamored of Tom Stoppard, David Hare

someone I trust implicitly (Steve Robman,

and Brian Friel. More recently, my taste in

mentioned earlier), as well as some audi-


playwrights is decidedly omnivorous. I love

ence members, urged me to write a full-

Sarah Ruhl, Lauren Gunderson and Anna

length play. All of this coincided with a

with Purpose

Ziegler, all of whom are writing beautiful,

period of renewed awareness of the lethal-

important work. Also, Stephen Adly Guir-

ity of hate speech and propaganda, and

by Jacqueline

gis is an ingenious master of serio-comedy.

I quickly surmised that the propaganda

Lee Blessing’s work also really moves me.

radio would be a running current through


Also, John Logan, Qui Nguyen, Paula Vogel,

the full-length play, as it was in Rwanda.

Lynn Nottage, Hugh Whitemore . . . and

KING: Are you working on anything new?

many more!

DAVIS: My serio-comedy Clara and Serra

KING: What was the inspiration for

and the Talking Bear, commissioned and


produced as a professional radio play by

DAVIS: I had started a series of plays

the Antaeus Theatre Company, is now

on women who faced nightmares of his-

available on their website and major pod-

tory and, just a few years earlier, had been

cast platforms. The play was also produced

working on efforts to halt the genocide

in digital format by Playhouse Creatures in

in Darfur, which bore some haunting

New York City, which selected it for their

similarities to the genocide in Rwanda. I

J. R. Rodriguez Award. It’s a 30-minute play,


had always known that the genocide in

intentionally comedic and supernatural

workbook combines

Rwanda started with a plane crash that

but with a serious core. I am also currently

killed the country’s president, but some-

working on two new dramatic plays, one

thing leaped out at me in reading further

taking place in the early 1960s and the other

about Rwanda: The person who was next in

set in our current moment. Lastly, I continue

engaging exercises

line for the presidency was a woman who

to write one-acts: My newest one-act, a

and evocative

was a university professor by training, the

comedy in verse and a riff on the Medusa

mother of five children, and an advocate for

story, was just workshopped at Antaeus.

the education of women and girls. She was

KING: Any advice for emerging play-

also not a politician by training, but had


array of

been placed in her role as part of a fragile

DAVIS: I’m not at all sure I’m the person to


coalition government that was installed

give such advice! I’m still figuring this stuff

by the peace treaty signed at the end of

out myself. But, for whatever it’s worth, I’m

the country’s last civil war. Her name was

firmly in the camp that holds writers have

Agathe Uwilingiyimana, and her story is

to be readers, so I would say, definitely

speaks to the full

often overlooked – or mentioned only in

READ. Go to the theatre, support other

range of those

passing – in books about the Rwandan

playwrights and theatrical artists. Go to the

genocide because her story (and her life)

library, too, and let yourself get lost there.


well curated examples with

writing prompts to create an endless

approaches to playwriting. It

interested in

ended on the very day that the larger story

Read Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write.

creating scripted

of the Rwandan genocide began. I also

And exercise regularly. n

drama—students and

learned that the last night of her life was an

teachers, novices and experts."

amazing portrait in courage: She saved the lives of her five children. Further research revealed that Mbaye Diagne, a larger-than-

David S. Thompson,

life jokester, consummate tactician and

Agnes Scott College

stunning exemplar of heroism who was

54 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021

Laura King is a professional playwright and the chair of the SETC Publications Committee.

musicals | 212-541-4684


Share the wonder of

WORDS, WORDS, WORDS . . . Editor: Sarah McCarroll

Words, words, words … [Hamlet II,ii] reviews books on theatre that have a connection to the Southeast or may be of special interest to SETC members. Sarah McCarroll, an associate professor of theatre at Georgia Southern University, edits this regular column. If you have a book for review, please send to: SETC, Book Editor, 5710 W. Gate City Blvd., Suite K, Box 186, Greensboro, NC 27407. How to Teach a Play: Essential Exercises for Popular Plays Edited by Miriam Chirico and Kelly Younger 2020, Methuen Drama, Bloomsbury Publishing, ISBN: 9781350017535 Pages: 302 Price: $31.45 (paperback); $25.16 (E-book); $90 (hardback)

then write their hobbies and goals on

by Thomas Chavira

in pursuit of materialism, and the cost of

strips of paper. Finally, they choose which hobbies and goals they would discard in order to keep their dream home or which ones they would keep in lieu of their dream home. Paired with a reading of the play, this activity encourages students to think about the role of women in 19th century marriages, the sacrifices that are made conceding control, amongst the many more

ith How To Teach A Play, English

themes Ibsen presents.

and theatre professors Miriam

The lessons all feature four standard

Chirico and Kelly Younger aim to

headings that break down each one-to-

recontextualize how dramatic literature

two-page exercise:

is introduced and explored in academia.

• “In Brief,” which gives a summary of


Acknowledging the gap between the sometimes dry approach to dramatic texts

the exercise. • “Purpose,” which specifies the goal of

in English and Literature classes (that often

the exercise, how that goal is achieved

hold to the sanctity of the text) and the

and what methodologies will be used.

performance-happy lens that can often be

• “Preparation,” which states what the

ning Acting, Text Analysis, Dramaturgy,

found in drama classes, this book exists to

students will need to have prepared

and English/Dramatic Literature classes.

serve both rooms with equal amounts of

or be familiar with in order to partici-

For classical texts by playwrights such as


Shakespeare and Molière (both included

critical thinking and vision. The 80-plus lessons in the book were submitted by professors and theatre

• “Materials,” which lists any necessary physical instruments or supplies.

in the book), the exercises offer many scene-specific prompts that can offset the

professionals from all over the world,

All entries also include a closing

density of the language for students just

who offer ideas for teaching dozens of

“Reflection,” which ties together

discovering these authors.

highly produced plays ranging from

dramaturgy and performance, addressing

ancient Greece’s classics to 21st century

the themes coupled with the performing

to encouraging readers to create their own

diverse texts such as Sweat and Vietgone.

activities that were just completed.

exercises with a play of their choice using

All lessons use a standard template aimed

Perhaps the most useful and student-

a blank template, providing a resource for

at highlighting the performance elements

friendly component of this book is that

the teacher and the students to continue

of a specific play while indicating how

the exercises don’t require actor training

reexamining classic stories in new, modern

that element illuminates the play’s larger

to participate and don’t demand a lot of

ways. n


resources or preparation. Rather, these

For example, in an entry about Ibsen’s

entries serve as springboards for active

Hedda Gabler, Professor Shadow David

engagement and can be elongated as

Zimmerman from the University of

an introduction to a playwright or an era.

California Santa Cruz explores the domestic

The simple metric and framework

settings of the playwright’s world as both

also give space for teachers to modify the

realistic and symbolic spaces. Students are

exercises to fit their classes’ needs.

asked to create on paper their dream homes,

This book would be helpful in Begin-

56 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021

The final pages of the book are dedicated

Thomas Chavira (he/him) is an actor, producer and educator from Fort Worth, TX. He earned a BFA in theatre from Abilene Christian University and MFAs from the University of Southern California and Loyola Marymount University. He currently teaches at Texas Christian University.

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