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
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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 www.concordtheatricals.com 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 www.dramatists.com 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 www.concordtheatricals.com 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 www.broadwayplaypub.com 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 www.dramatists.com 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
From the SETC President
SETC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Susie Prueter SETC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR EMERITUS
Betsey Horth ADVERTISING
Clay Thornton, firstname.lastname@example.org BUSINESS & ADVERTISING OFFICE
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
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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: email@example.com. 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
the box DESIGN/ TECH SOLUTIONS
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!
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
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
and adding a rubber sole would limit the
In the summer of 2018, I was the
(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.
hroughout my career as a costume
For that piece, I used wooden stir sticks
After checking the costume shop and the
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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
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
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,
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
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
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
inspiring thousands while our stages were
leaders of Barter Theatre, a professional
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
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
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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www.uscupstate.edu/theatre 14 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021
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 email@example.com 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
partnership with Octopus Theatricals and
When the Court
under the direction of the artists Christine
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 | mtishows.com
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
FOUND STAGES Atlanta, GA
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-
“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
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
MIAMI NEW DRAMA
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,
Black Lives Matter and political reckoning,”
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
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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run crew to marketing, to assure COVID PlayCo/Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
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
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
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?
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!
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
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
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
ROCK THE BARD
MLitt/MFA in Shakespeare & Performance at Mary Baldwin in partnership with the American Shakespeare Center www.marybaldwin.edu/shakespeare
A RENAISSANCE EDUCATION IN RENAISSANCE DRAMA 28 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021
PIEDMONT IS FAMILY Gabriel Slusser ’16
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, Technical Direction— Lexington Children’s Theatre
THEATRE ARTS MAJOR
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 piedmont.edu/theatre-arts-careers.
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
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
theatre company. I will continue working
new job as a producer. I am very fortunate
at theatre and arts organizations if some-
to say that I think it was only a month or
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
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
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
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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Sadly, most theatre folk are accustomed to trauma to some degree. It’s why many of us ended up in theatre. Resilience and
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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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F O R T
Connor McVey designed the logo for the Civ6ChallengeLeague using Vectorworks, software also used in theatrical design.
L A U D E R D A L E
VISIT US AT NOVA.EDU/ARTS Email: firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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?
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
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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34 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021
CofC Stages Practical production experiences start in your ﬁrst year!
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 louisianatechtheatre.com 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.
PERFORMING THE PEACE
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
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.
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
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.
“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
ACTING AND DIRECTING
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
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
PRODUCTION DESIGN AND TECHNOLOGY THEATRE FOR YOUTH DANCE MINOR
samford.edu/arts firstname.lastname@example.org 205-726-4111
Officer Chris Street.
“Me and my momma, we don’t see eye
Relate, Create, Collaborate
at Indiana University theatre.indiana.edu
Bachelor of Fine Arts Musical Theatre Dance
Master of Fine Arts
Bachelor of Arts
Acting, Costume Design, Costume Technology, Directing, Dramaturgy, Lighting Design, Playwriting, Scenic Design, and Theatre Technology
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38 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021
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made me open up to ‘playback.’ ”
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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Fall 2021 x Southern Theatre x 39
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
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
LI BERT Y U N I V ER SI T Y
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40 x Southern Theatre x Fall 2021
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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: liu.edu/brooklyn
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.
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FROM WHERE I STAND
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-
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
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
eled the country making theatre with/by/
DEPARTMENT OF THEATRE
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 | theatre.uncc.edu
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
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
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-
Connecting Candidates with Theatre Graduate Programs Virtual Event - Auditions and Interviews
8th Annual | December 1-3, 2021 | Low-Cost Registration Representatives from 50 advanced degree programs are expected to attend LiNK!
Registration Deadline: Nov. 11, 2021
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.
STUDY ACTING, DANCE AND PRODUCTION DESIGN WITH A BACHELOR OF ARTS IN THEATRE OR DANCE
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 • email@example.com
Apple podcasts). Arts organizations across the world
can kids be asking me:
These stories-turned-plays worked to
THEATRE & DANCE
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
Study Theatre at SMU
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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-
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 www.setc.org/setc-playwriting-history. 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 Angela.email@example.com angelajdavis.com © 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 www.setc.org/getchell-new-play-contest
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
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
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?
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
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
line for the presidency was a woman who
to write one-acts: My newest one-act, a
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
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.
A NEW GUIDE & WORKBOOK TO TEACH PLAYWRITING!
well curated examples with
writing prompts to create an endless
approaches to playwriting. It
ended on the very day that the larger story
Read Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write.
of the Rwandan genocide began. I also
And exercise regularly. n
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.
MTIshows.com | 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, bloomsbury.com 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
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
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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