ITJA Winner – Partners in Crime?

The following is a student-written work, presented as part of the Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy (ITJA) competition. The views and opinions expressed in this work are the author’s own.

Partners in Crime?

By: Calindez Edwards

Winner, KC/ACTF REGION IV ITJA AWARD 2017

Senior, Alabama State University

The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF) commences once a year to enrich, educate and engage students in the art of theatre. The annual festivities grant undergraduates a five day, four night all-access pass into an exhilarating world of total theatre immersion for little to no cost. The competition furnishes students with a welcome respite from the monotony of their college campus and bestows upon them a brief glimpse into their post- graduate futures. KCACTF divvies up the 50 United States into eight separate regions characterized by the cardinal point directions, specifying their province’s territory. Guest theatre professionals, educationists and scores of representatives from university theatre programs region-wide converge by the hundreds onto the host college’s campus. The connatural place where artists-in-training can live, shit and breathe theatre evolves into a dream come true for young creators. The possibilities appear limitless for the edifying enlightenment of America’s fledgling generation of theatre artisans. But beware as Macbeth’s recurring motif forebodes, appearances can be deceiving.

 

To the lax eye, KCACTF comes into view as an entity that takes great strides to foster an environment of inclusion and diversity. The productions that are invited to perform at the festival usually have multiracial casts, while the Irene Ryan and Musical Theatre Initiative hopefuls resemble congregants at a Model UN conference. The last five consecutive Irene Ryan Acting winners for Region IV have all been African-American students from a historically black college and university (HBCU). The first runner-up and Best Partner acting awards have also mostly gone to minorities over those same few years.

 

Conversely, recent award ceremonies were hampered by the conveyance of the disturbing message that black students have little to no place at the proverbial table where the Directing; Design Technology and Stage Management; Playwriting and Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy categories are concerned. No African-American student designers have placed first in any of those categories in the past three years. Furthermore, Region IV’s winner statistics suggest the usefulness of black artists’ contributions to the theatre are limited almost exclusively to performance.

 

The addition of the Marvin Sims Diversity Award, named in honor of the deceased educator and former KCACTF National Executive Committee member, potentially serves to belie the fact that Region IV’s winners list implies that black student artists excel at entertaining and hardly anything else. The late Mr. Sims was a trailblazer for theatre advocacy and taught college courses in directing, acting and criticism during his tenure as a professor. Sims was elected as the first African-American president of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, an organization well renowned for promoting vision and leadership in theatre education. I wonder what potential commentary he would have proffered in regards to the ostensible glass ceiling currently impeding black theatre students. Kudos to Region IV for commemorating Sim’s memory with a special award of recognition but why are only acting performers eligible to receive it? More importantly, why was the tribute accolade assignated to actors when it would have served a greater purpose in either the directing, playwriting or criticism (ITJA) categories?  Ironically enough, The Marvin Sims Diversity Award segregates in presentation to actors of color only.

 

Paradoxically, the indisputable fact stands steadfast that KCACTF, at least Region IV, places nil value in diversification of their executive board members either since all seven chairs are Caucasian. For the record, three of Region IV’s executive board members are women, therefore a blanket assertion that diversity is completely devoid would be misleading. Nonetheless, it rings true that all three of the female board members are indeed Caucasian. Where are not only the African-Americans but also Latinos, Asians, Muslims and LGBTQ communities represented within the ranks of the directorates? The board of executives for any publically funded organization should duly reflect the entirety of the landscape they claim to represent not just one certain segment. Located in the southeastern portion of the U.S., Region IV includes red states such as Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky. I do not believe that it is a coincidence that the increasingly alarming symbiosis between KCACTF’s Region IV and its participating HBCU’s is eerily reminiscent of the master-house slave relationship dynamics of the antebellum south. A distressing pattern of unspoken complicity between the two seems to have emerged in recent years. It would appear that as long as the exceptionally talented black actors and singers remain in tune with the status quo by continuing to shuck and jive for the white folks, everything is otay in good ol’ Dixie.

 

Arguably, does the blame for the deficit of a more prominent minority presence in the non-performance categories fall squarely on the shoulders of the KCACTF regions? No it does not. Undoubtedly, at least where the HBCU’s are concerned, a major disconnect occurs between the KCACTF respondent’s initial nomination; the student and faculty’s collaborative preparation; and ultimately, the student’s festival presentation. Numerous HBCU theatre departments trek hundreds of miles to the festivals annually, with the express purpose to win performance awards, having little to no regard for participation elsewhere. Their synergetic partnerships with KCACTF notwithstanding, the accountability of the schools in properly preparing students for viable futures as professionals within all areas of theatre remains immensely crucial. The Universities and their associated theatre programs must be taken to task for their role in this glaring disparity as well.

 

For example, why are playwriting and dramaturgy classes not offered in most HBCU theatre programs? Particularly, if the department chairs or program directors are playwrights yet insist upon using valuable University resources to mount their own scripts as qualifying productions. Why not re-allocate that sizeable portion of the department budget toward the ontogeny of future black playwrights instead of covertly disguised attempts at self-aggrandizement? What are the primary focal points of the curriculum and training students are receiving? Are there development programs or workshops with committed and qualified mentors in place at these institutions geared toward cultivating the burgeoning interests of the incipient dramaturgs, critics, directors, stage managers and designers of tomorrow? These questions raise serious concerns but as they pertain to other colleges and their processes, I am unable to answer with absolute certainty.

 

However, I am inclined to share my own personal experiences as they relate to being an African-American theatre major from Alabama State University (ASU), my HBCU. I have also attended the last three KCACTF Region IV festivals.  I was not afforded support or assistance with any of my nominations by a single member of the faculty at my school. Ever. For the past two years, I would arrive at KCACTF completely ill prepared for the competition. I have been nominated a total of seven times in three years for multiple awards such as Dramaturgy, Stage Management and ITJA. I have yet to win an award but I am far from bitter. Quite the contrary, I am grateful for the invaluable life lessons I have learned from these experiences. At past festivals, I felt an isolation and alienation akin to solitary confinement. I was frequently the lone person of color, more specifically the only black male, in a room full of mostly Caucasian peers. As a consequence of these awkward encounters, I learned the hard way that I could never truly see a reflection of myself while attempting to peer through the eyes of another.

 

All things considered, I am truly appreciative to ASU as well as KCACTF Region IV for the training and tutelage I have been fortunate to receive during my four year sojourn as a non-traditional college student. Now as a graduating senior, my only hope is that the true intention of this missive is heard loud and clear and structural changes are implemented post haste to improve a deeply flawed system. The future tastemakers and innovators of American theatre are being groomed at this very moment and I am afraid for the vitality of the art form if the current trend continues. At this rate, black and other minority artists will be marginalized to the fringes of the stage while white artists will call the shots in all areas requiring aforethought and brain trust.  It is quite possible that I am being naive, maybe Region IV and HBCU’s are only emulating the much, much bigger entertainment industry’s infrastructure of power hierarchy? Not only will diversity be imperative to the approaching dawn of theatre’s new era, it will be a requirement for its success.

 

I used to wonder if it were possible that I was the only black college student, in any theatre program canvasing nine different states, interested in becoming a theatre intellectual in Dramaturgy, Directing and Criticism? By and large, that possibility appears to be the sad truth from my purview. Be that as it may, I am no King of Scotland and a trio of witches are not needed to predict duplicitous deceptions because what you get is exactly what you see.

 

ITJA Finalist – Dealing With Dreadful Devices

The following is a student-written work, presented as part of the Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy (ITJA) competition. The views and opinions expressed in this work are the author’s own.

Dealing with Dreadful Devices

by Pedro Urquia, Florida International University

           First Runner Up for Region IV ITJA Advocate Award

Saturday Night Live has a sketch that they bring out from time to time that reflects on the terrible student-written productions that every theatre student experienced in high school. The humor in the sketch comes from the lack of subtlety in the student productions. If the students want to discuss homophobia in America, they kiss each other and implore the audience to “get over it.” If they want to discuss the dangers of unprotected sex, the amateur performers will turn to the audience and proclaim “I have AIDS.” I bring up this recurring sketch because every time I sit in the audience of a devised piece of theatre I am reminded of that SNL skit.

Collaborative theatre shares a lot in common with the political theory of communism. Like communism, this kind of theatre theatre promotes a hive mentality where every person and their individual needs are treated equally. Everyone’s opinion thrusts itself center stage when no one has the courage to kill their darlings for the sake of a uniform opinion. A cacophonous crowd of voices shouting at the audience without any sense of authentic urgency takes the stage. At this point the audience feels like a child being scolded by someone their own age on matters far beyond either’s understanding.

In 2016, I experienced Shoestring Players’ The Pursuit of U.S., a devised piece that attempted to comment on the state of the media, government and lifestyle in America. In 2017, The Mis-Education of Hip Hop, attempts to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement, Hip Hop’s history and the lives of four forgettable characters trying to start a music group. These pieces share the same problem, they fail to focus their narratives and stray into telling the audience how to feel way too often. Telling and not showing seems to be the law of the land in the world of devised theatre. Grave life decisions are casually brought up in their tale that lends no credence to anything happening on the stage. Characters complete total reversions of their personalities in mere seconds without reasonable explanations.

The biggest sin with pieces like Pursuit of U.S. and Mis-Education of Hip Hop, appears in the form of exploitative sensationalism. Topics are ripped from the headlines and rubbed in the noses of the audience until they are forced to react. Manipulation rules supreme, and it leaves a sickening feeling in the audience by the time the cast takes their bow. Actual discussions are abandoned over what I have termed “tabloid theatre.”

Unfortunately, these pieces are not completely devoid of merit. When the actors/writers/directors focus on facts and creating complete characters onstage the group actually speaks as one and delivers truth on stage. In the case of Mis-Education, there are enough facts about the history of hip hop to create a decent one act about the voices of those hip hop artists that some have forgotten. Collaboration could very well lead to a story that follows a single narrative thread and awards the audience with new knowledge. Instead, audiences are punished with the disjointed tragedies of four characters that are too underdeveloped to care about. With frenzied flourishes of a red pen, an amateur editor could pluck some humanity from the depths of this plays’ cold, unfeeling heart.

There remains the possibility that nothing can save the naïve sentimentality of devised theatre. Trying to cram all the ideas of every author of a play leads to the classic “too many cooks” scenario. With everyone trying to form an opinion on a single subject, no opinion comes from the final product. Plays like this hint at bigger ideas that go unexplored. Themes that get abandoned halfway through their analysis. This causes the audience to leave the theatre unsure whether or not they actually got anything from the piece or were force fed an idea until it appeared to be their own. It comes off as a less successful and neophyte attempt at brainwashing the audience into agreeing with the latest liberal cause. Wanting to win an audience over with integrity would be a commendable goal, but attempting to do so with a handful of talking points amounts to nothing in the end.

With some soul-crushing imagination and decades of rewiring, I can see the methods of creating devised theatre coming together to make more complete and earnest stories. If a designated leader became traditional in collaborative work, then I can even envision community theatres putting on whole seasons consisting of only their devised works. As it stands, the infantile nature of the craft shows in the lack of finesse behind the pieces of this generation. I believe we are currently watching this style’s awkward years of puberty. With time, it could turn out to be a wonderful commentary on the world around us or remain an SNL-parody of itself.

ITJA Finalist – The Effect of Team Building on A Successful Stage Production

The following is a student-written work, presented as part of the Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy (ITJA) competition. The views and opinions expressed in this work are the author’s own.

The Effect of Team Building on A Successful Stage Production

By: Samantha Poffenberger

First Year Student, Georgia Southern University

Every piece of theatre consists of the onstage performance delivered by the actors and the backstage performance given by the crew. The crew, comprised of everyone from stagehands to design tech, play a vital part in creating a seamless production. Each crew member acts as a stitch in a piece of fabric, if one stops doing their job the entire thing falls apart.

As KCACTF progressed, I had the opportunity to witness how different crews handled the many tasks of putting on a show, including assembling the set, repositioning lights and making on-the-fly adjustments to make sure the entire show runs seamlessly. Some teams were almost mechanical in the way they moved in synchronized patterns while hanging lights and bringing in set pieces. They resemble a robot army, with their matching expressionless faces, as if they get no enjoyment from their existence and are on this Earth solely to move props around for plays. On the flip side, other crews are a little less organized. Not to throw anyone under the bus, but GSU’s stage crew is one of these. Unlike our robotic counterparts, we actually look like we are having fun, even when we are not. We may not be the most organized crew and we sure are not the best stage crew at KCACTF, but we make up for it with our enthusiasm and passion. I personally feel that the approach taken by GSU’s stage crew is the better one. At the end of the day I believe in the importance of enjoying the overall experience, and that the chemistry that a more casual method builds can actually be helpful when situations arise in the middle of a performance.

I understand why some stage crews chose the more step by step technique. Ultimately, the crew is responsible for making sure everything goes well on the technical side . They are not there to make friends or pull pranks on each other. Their job is to put on a good show and make sure that everything goes as according to plan. They do this not just for the audience, but also for the actors who have spent months of their lives memorizing their lines and sacrificing their precious hours to put on a fantastic show. I, however, think it meaningful to fully immerse yourself into the comradery among the company. I am not going to lie, at times backstage work is not the most thrilling job in the world and the ability to joke around with my fellow crew members makes it not only bearable, but honestly enjoyable.

The other issue with a more formal style of tech is when you treat the production as a job you miss the team building aspect of putting on a show. Not only is the bonding experience influential for the theatre department as a whole, but it is a key component to a successful production. When a stage crew builds chemistry, it allows them to work better on-the-fly. When something goes wrong in the middle of a performance, which happens to even the best of crews, the bond between individual crew members can be crucial. In those critical moments between a diverted disaster and a literal one, the strong relationship between the team allows the crew to anticipate what the other members of the crew are about to do. With the more detached attitude you lack that connection, which can be the deciding factor between disaster and a minor slip up. Slip ups so minute that the audience does not even notice. In that moment where the entire production hangs in the balance, the ability to know the person working alongside allows you to save precious moments. For example, in She Kills Monsters, the final battle involves a five-headed dragon. To accomplish this five ensemble members had to bear the burden of carrying a steel framed backpack with a giant papier-mache dragon head on top. As you can imagine each head was a substantial amount of weight and is incredibly dangerous. During a run-through of the show the biggest and heaviest head started to falter. The head and the actor were about to come tumbling down at any second. Without missing a beat the entire crew simultaneously ran on stage to save the life of our actor and the dragon head. The only way that we all could be on the exact same wave-length was because we were more of a family and less like co-workers. In the end the crew being so coordinated saved one of our actors from being seriously injured.  

In some instances, the dilemma occurs of who may oversee fixing the problem. With the more structured styles every person has there one job they are responsible for, so when something goes wrong the task of fixing it falls onto that person or people. With the more casual attitude, no one cares whose job it may be, they are just worried about fixing the problem as coherent as possible and creating a quick-stitch solution that fastens the rip in the performance.

 

ITJA Finalist – Are You Ready For A Cabinet Meeting?

The following is a student-written work, presented as part of the Institute for Theatre Journalism and Advocacy (ITJA) competition. The views and opinions expressed in this work are the author’s own.

 

Are You Ready for a Cabinet Meeting?

By Collette Simkins

Senior, Catawba College

In a world where Javier Munoz, a gay Latino actor, portrays Alexander Hamilton at the same time as Mike Pence, the Vice President of the United States, advocates for conversion therapy, a new question begs for an answer. How do artists fight a war which often feels like it has already been lost?

In recent months, launched by events like Mike Pence’s Hamilton visit, we have searched for solutions. The responses vary. At one end of the spectrum, Pence’s sympathizers and supporters believe art exists only to entertain. Politics hold no place in our work. At the other end, those who defended the cast’s words, think art exists to challenge no matter who it alienates. But when the creators often represent marginalized communities and the consumers tend to hold privilege, neither of these answers satisfies either party. The first not only diminishes an artist’s work, but might also endanger the artist’s well-being. The second ignores an entire half of the conversation instead preaching to a choir of the already converted. But if neither solution works, what do we do?

The participants of KCACTF Region 4 offer up an alternative. It is not cowardly complacency nor is it fiery self-righteousness; it is a subtle and rumbling call to action. The plays presented during the 49th Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival shared a similar theme: insidious social justice, well hidden in fantastical worlds and universal stories.

Qui Nguyen’s She Kills Monsters, presented by Georgia Southern University, follows a young woman, Agnes, embracing Dungeons and Dragons in order to understand the mind of her dead younger sister, Tillie. On the surface, the audience witnesses a feel good sisterhood story full of references to the Power Rangers, Friends, and Sir Mix- A-Lot. But they also get a story in which the heroine’s love interest pales in comparison to her quest. They get a story in which a young woman learns to wield a weapon and fight for herself. They get a story in which Agnes discovers her own worth and lives beyond her label of “average.”

She Kills Monsters is a feminist play; it just doesn’t feel like one. While Agnes shames Tillie’s D&D companions for their revealing outfits, everyone else within this world accepts it. Tillie’s friends wear what they want- their body, their choice. The play espouses feminist ideals without bogging the audience down in a bucket of theory. Nguyen unites millennials, regardless of political leaning, through our love of the nineties which opens the floor to conversations about why a demon princess and female elven warrior were half dressed or what it means that Nicholas Newell cast two young black girls in the lead roles. Friends serves as an olive branch, now we have to extend it.

Women’s rights are not the only issue in need of defense, the plight of immigrants and refugees must be represented as well. Florida International University’s production of La Nona shares the woes of Italian immigrants living in Argentina with American audiences and performed in Spanish. Playwright Roberto Cossa wrote the play as a response to the Argentinian government’s irresponsibility and deviousness. Marina Pareja’s direction misses the mark of the playwright’s original intent; it does not quite move past the farcical, but she still stakes a claim in the battle for representation and equality. Pareja decided the story needed telling. Even if the production does not reach its allegorical potential, the play still focuses on the immigrant struggle. Pareja chose the Spanish-language version of the play and her actors perform in their native tongue, alerting the primarily English speaking audiences of position as outsiders.

Our laughter masks the subliminal messaging. As we delight in Nona’s incessant eating and grumble at Chicho’s scheming, we consume the message Pareja lays before us. Pareja says immigrants’ stories deserve to be told. If we take the time to delve just a bit deeper into the script, we find Cossa’s argument, which may inspire us but ostracize patrons who support an authoritarian government.

In a reimagining of A Doll’s House, ten-minute plays about deaf culture, and one-acts about the Holocaust and young black protestors, we could hear the message: Bring the horse to water. You cannot force him to drink, but the horse will see how refreshing the water looks and maybe he’ll drink of his own volition. Nora’s House, a contemporary re-telling of the third act of Ibsen’s famous play, presents its audience with a fast paced response to the early feminist piece. North Greenville used video and projection to contemporize the production and connect to a modern audience. Yet the theme remains the same, Nora is not a child or a doll; she deserves an intellectual and fulfilling life. Lacey Alexander’s ten-minute play Bits and Pieces explores the life of a partially deaf girl, Miley, and her struggle to communicate in a hearing-centered world. Bits and Pieces represents a new wave of plays noticeably absent in the theatre, those celebrating our differences in ability.  

KCACTF’s solution to our problem recognizes the validity of artists’ desire to protect their own and acknowledges that at some level our craft does exist to entertain.  We walk a fine line when we attempt to shut out patrons because they believe differently than us. Like bees to honey, easing our opponents into the conversation might yield a more productive outcome than throwing them on the offensive. Provocative, challenging theatre has its place; it prevents us from becoming complacent in our own do-gooding. If we can re-contextualize our war as a gathering, we might be more successful Though eventually we need to find a way for everyone else to get the party, right now we need to start with an invitation.

Making A Comeback

By: Laighton Cain, ITJA Contributor

The world needs Shakespeare, but our kids are losing him: they don’t have appreciation for literary masterpieces and performing arts. The SCAD Department of Performing Arts and The Classical Touring Company have taken some innovative—and controversial—steps in Vivian Majkowski’s contemporary adaption of William Shakespeare’s comedy “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” to make his work accessible to the school and college students who have seen the work on tour this year. They have modernized physical aspects like costumes and set and made Shakespeare’s language more understandable.

I was apprehensive before the show because the original script had been cut. My preference is for Shakespeare’s words untamed and uncut. I also prefer the traditional Elizabethan style. But I went because I was intrigued. I have been surprised by past adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. I wanted to see if they would surprise me.

The first surprise as I walked into the theatre was the set. I was enraptured; it was minimalistic, yet it commanded the audience’s attention. The white backdrop was coated in sea foam green lighting, which invigorated the electric colors of the set and costumes. The darkness surrounding the stage shocked Márien De Moya’s set design to life. The painted picture of the city square set the intended time period.

The next surprise as the show began was the costumes. Marjorie Ward’s creations were ineffaceable. Each character’s color scheme individualized their costumes while subtly pairing them with other characters. Julia (Emily Tomlinson) and Proteus (Bowen Fox) are supposed to be together because of the warm colors; Julia wore a radiantly orange skirt, and Proteus wore cherry red slacks. Julia’s urban chic skirt fell below the knee. The length harkens back to the Elizabethan era; an admirable parallel. Cheers to Ward for Proteus’s piano socks.

Music director Gia Erichson’s band electrified the crowd. Leonard W. Rose aroused the audience with his guitar. Isaac Spooner made a valiant attempt at serenading the audience with his violin. Ayla Bellamy made an appreciable contribution to the musical numbers with her clarinet, but her singing voice was indelible. Her warm resonance stimulated my veins.

The band’s cover of Sam Smith’s romantic heartbreaker “Lay Me Down” raised my spirit to the heavens as burning chills seared through my body. Their rendition of Drake’s iconic wonder “Hotline Bling” was gallant, yet discouraging. The intention was understandable; the presentation was not victorious.

The third surprise came as Proteus and the band performed a rap in which Proteus proclaims his admiration for Sylvia (Chloe Kay). It was fresh, unexpected, exciting. It would have been fully satisfying if the text was audible, but the vocals and the instruments were unbalanced.

The fourth and final surprise was the actors. The most thrilling aspect of the acting was the language; the verbal rhythm was natural, and the text was understandable. Bowen Fox made me fall in love with Proteus, and then despise him. Justin Jackson brought out the romance in the text in Act III, Scene I. The audience gushed with laughter over Logan Coffey. The ensemble’s work was stunning, satisfying, successful. They fastened their grip on the audience’s attention, and kept it. I fell in love with Shakespeare all over again.

They achieved a significant feat: they brought out the true beauty of the language. At times, however, they struggled with the physical acting, diction, and volume. Some actors upstaged themselves; others did not appropriately articulate.

These artists have refreshed one of the greatest works in theatrical history, and have succeeded in making Shakespeare accessible to the children of America. I hope for more artists like these in the future.

Devising That Needs Revising

By:  Sierra Carlson, ITJA Contributor

              Devised theatre is much like science, it’s a system of trial and error. Devise, perform, revise, and repeat. Unfortunately, The Shoestring Players’ The Pursuit of U.S. is an example of a devised work that still needs revising.

These eight devisors take a huge bite out of the American pie, and taste homophobia, class division, conception, contraception, race relations, gender relations, government involvement, gun violence, media bias, and immigration reform in under two hours. Indeed, this production is intended to examine what makes an American. However, the argument is disarrayed to a point that questions whether or not there was an argument in the first place. At this point, these eight players take on too much and do so randomly.

As a result, topics don’t get equal dialogue. A talk show sketch featuring three male actors unintentionally parallels this problem. In it a distinguished black professor, a young stoner, and a misogynistic southern Baptist are seated and ready to debate immigration reform. The conversation quickly turns, transforming into a battle between professor and preacher over their preference for chocolate or vanilla ice cream. The original topic, immigration, is abandoned entirely and replaced with a discussion on race relations, which has previously been explored through movement, projections, and scene work. Not once does the production truly dive into the issue of immigration.

The playbill, much like the production, is unfocused. The director’s note is three sentences long and each sentence claims something different about the work. The first sets up that the production is about several couples chasing the American dream. Next we read that the performance is a critique on “various aspects of America.” Finally, the last sentence claims that this afternoon of theatre asks what it takes “to cut the strings that freedom is bound by.” The three sentences are unrelated and they give no clear expectations of what is about to happen on stage.

What happens is this. The Pursuit of U.S. is a chaotic assortment of sketches rooted in reality, surreal skits, music, and movement. Pulled apart, the individual aspects make sense. Three couples share their story in chronological segments, focusing on the social and economic differences between them. The movement pieces pull out and focus on specific groups from the ensemble, making points about empowerment and evolution. When these are thrown together, with the addition of abrupt skits, the styles collide and confuse.

The audience is in need of a life line, being pushed and pulled in so many directions. The shock factor exploited in certain scenes only worsens the blows. There is a fine line between responsible and irresponsible use of offensive language. Responsible treatment of “mature” language is specific, used to further develop plot and character. Irresponsibly it offends, stripping away a production’s integrity. The Pursuit of U.S. uses language irresponsibly, off-handedly misusing a word for comedic value.  The name of one character in the piece is an indisputable sexist slur. Oppression is converted to a punchline and I am not laughing.

The Pursuit of U.S. needs revisiting. There is work worth keeping and to honor that work is to clarify it. Consider again devised theatre as a science. Mathematicians spend years analyzing equations, trying to place the numbers perfectly. If they do, something new is discovered about our universe. In the same way The Pursuit of U.S. is trying to solve the American equation, they just have yet to put the numbers in the right order.

‘Alice’ Adaptation Delivers Apt Appreciation

By: Calindez DeShaun Edwards, ITJA Contributor

“Who in the World Am I?” At some point all have faced this essential question. Alice does, in Belmont University Theatre’s Production of Alice, Ara Vito’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. One of the main reasons this masterpiece of literary nonsense has maintained its relevance in popular culture for over 150 years is simply due to the fact that it is one of most accessible stories of all time on a child’s search for self-confidence.

The show’s entire production team is sparkling with amazing girl power. The magnificent Madeline Marconi as Alice leads a stellar all-female cast and the majority of the production’s crew are women. Designer Caroline Nott’s innovative costumes add extra layers of depth and dimension to the already impressive production. The Cat, the Caterpillar and the gauzy behemoth Jabberwocky stand out as colorful, quirky creations, radiating like rainbows against the all-white set.

Playwright Ara Vito obviously has a deep appreciation for Carroll’s text. She has taken great care in crafting her impressive update not only to preserve Alice’s integrity but also to establish her as more of an aggressive tumbler akin to The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen and less of a woebegone, doe-eyed waif. Vito’s adaptation initially finds this new, millennial Alice as an oddly mature, self-aware tween whose contentious relationship with her parents has dire consequences on her self-worth.  Yet ultimately, Alice discovers that she didn’t know her own strength.

Fortunately, ‘Alice’ skips the urge to demystify its wonderment, securely guaranteeing the wondrous land of wonders is still the place we remember. Creator Lewis Carroll, imagined as a real character in this adaptation, accompanies Alice on her adventure through the magical mystery mirror. Don’t get it twisted; this 21st century Alice is not reliant on a man or a silly white rabbit to steer her through Wonderland. Vito’s crafty addition of Carroll as Alice’s sidekick whose more than happy to ride shotgun placing Alice firmly in the driver’s seat. This could be perceived as commenting on the transformation of gender roles over the last 150 years. But one never really knows…does one?

Director Brent Maddox tinkers not only with Carroll’s original conception of Alice as a naïve ingénue but also her meaning and purpose in these postmodern times.  The simple fact that the iconic peroxide blond Disney princess is now rocking a mousy, dull brown coif, is our first clue that the script has indeed been flipped . While Maddox artfully weaves an captivating web of action around the adapted Alice and her internal and external struggles, he thankfully manages to keep the show sprinting forward.

Paul Gatrell’s exemplary scene design is a marvel to behold with a myriad of simple complexities.  Its massive staircases are not only mobile and intertwining, they are also luxuriously draped in sheer valances, as Alice’s portable stairway to heaven continuously morphs into multiple shape-shifting variations. The Queen of Hearts’ crimson-kissed tower of power is a fantastic formation of the converting set’s inventive ingenuity evoking an otherworldly, ethereal impression.

Maggie Jackson’s ingenious lighting design and Kyle Odum’s unique sound design, with its compelling classical music score, are  additional brilliant technical elements in the production. Everything old is new again and thoroughly modern Alice is no exception to the rule. This refreshing adaptation provides a sophisticated and intelligent twist on an old, old tale. The reason Alice has endured the ages, as the quintessential little girl lost because as she discovers her own inner strength, we access those lost remnants of our own childhood innocence.

Georgia Southern’s Invited Production Spurs Surprising Audience Reaction

By: Sally Henry

Some of the students at the eight schools who brought plays to KCACTF Region IV this week had previous experience with taking a show on the road to the festival. But for current students at Georgia Southern University, the experience was completely new.

The Statesboro school packed up their fall production of David Mamet’s Race and headed to Albany, Georgia, which as we theatre people know well is easier said than done. Members of the Race team say they first had to consider the significantly different structure of the theatre in Albany in relation to the theatre they had used during their run in September.

“The new space affected the set because originally the set piece was on the ground floor,” says assistant stage manager Brandon Muggy, referring to the large platform on which sat the lawyers’ office. “We had risers for the audience in the original space, and they were closer to the set [than they were in the Albany venue]. But the new space was a proscenium thrust, so the set was up higher now, and the audience was below.”

Thus, the new space necessitated the team to anticipate adjustments before arriving at the venue. And with just four hours allowed in the theatre before the performance, they had to make it run like clockwork.

“We practiced load-in one day at the Performing Arts Center,” says Tatyana Arrington, who played Susan. “We were just like, ‘We just want to load in the set to see how long it’s going to take and get a feel for the space.’ So we did it at the PAC at Georgia Southern, because it’s a lot bigger than the Black Box, and more similar to the space in Albany. Doing that ahead of time helped us be faster and helped us get a feel for the space just so we could know what we were doing.”

Muggy says the most onerous part of the practice load-in ended up being not the heavy platform pieces, but rather the simplest set dressing.

“We had so many books!  And to catalogue all the books and to get them on the shelf to please the designer was a challenge. When we did our first practice load-in, it was a disaster. It took us literally an hour to figure out where to put the books and eventually made a catalogue system and used that to tour.”

Besides rehearsing load-in and load-out, the cast, which also included Whitaker Gardner, Harry Hudgins, and V. Akil Jackson, met for rehearsals in the weeks leading up to KCACTF. Even this proved easier said than done, because Arrington had graduated this past December.

“We had to have Skype rehearsals before I could actually come back to Statesboro,” says Arrington. “Then we were rehearsing every day, and Lisa [Abbott] was sitting in on that last week of rehearsals before we left for ACTF.”

Their preparation paid off, because once in Albany, it was smooth sailing, with a load-in that met their one-hour goal. The cast and crew spent some of their remaining hours before the show working out the kinks that came with a new space, though those were few.

Both Muggy and Arrington agree that by far the most surprising aspect to this whole process was the audience’s reaction.

Muggy says, “At our home performance space, the audience didn’t receive it well… The audience here at ACTF had a completely different reaction. We got laughter! That was astonishing. I remember sitting backstage thinking, ‘They’re… laughing at this?!’”

Arrington was surprised at how strongly she could sense the total support of the audience. “It made our performances even better. I feel like just feeling them enjoying the show, laughing and sighing and saying things like, ‘Uh-uh! No way! I can’t believe this! Another curse word!’—everything like that helped better the show for me.”

But the best moment in Arrington’s eyes came after the final line had been delivered. Parts of the audience started a standing ovation without waiting for the lights to come back on for the curtain call.

“When the lights went down, I just remember I breathed really loudly, and then Akil [Jackson] put his hand on my shoulder, and then the lights came up,” Arrington recalls.

“Just to see everybody on their feet clapping and cheering for us, it was the best feeling. We just felt so happy in that moment. I literally ran off stage, changed out of my costume as soon as possible, ran into the guys’ dressing room, and jumped into their arms, saying, “I love you guys! We did it! We did it!” It was such a good feeling.”

Muggy says that even a day after the show, he still heard conversations about the material, as well as praises for the whole team. “I hung out with Harry [Hudgins] today, who was Charles, and some people stopped us and said to Harry, ‘Oh my God, you were so good!!’ So it was exciting to see their reaction today. And they’re still talking about it.”

Read more from Sally at…
SingularSensationBway.Blogspot.com // www.BroadwayWorld.com/author/Sally-Henry
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A Window To The Soul

By Alexi Siegel

Oscar Wilde stated theatre was “the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the essence of what it is to be a human being.” Included in the playbill for North Carolina Central University’s production of The Bluest Eye, the words of Wilde capture the goal of the play perfectly and ultimately what NCUU achieved. Through stunning stage pictures, their addition of music, and the actor’s exceptional story telling abilities, the very souls of these characters were revealed onstage in a way that allowed human nature to be better understood by the end of the play. The actors were able to send a message about the human condition that touched the entire audience and inspired a well-deserved standing ovation. The production explained how such a devastating story could happen but asked the audience the real question, which is, why?

This play tells the story of a young girl, Pecola, and her disturbing childhood that ultimately leads her to hate what some people consider the very window to a persons soul, her own eyes. The play never places blame on one individual in particular, focusing instead on trying to show the terrifying events that could lead to the breaking of a soul. Even the character of the abusive, alcoholic father, Cholly, was given a full back-story that caused a brief moment of empathy for his character. The revelation of the horrors of his past humanized this child molester.

Moriah Williams (Pecola), Daja Middleton (Claudia), and Kay Monet (Frieda), who were the main characters of the script, used the full range of their vocal abilities by creating character voices and singing which heightened the plot. And while these college actresses were clearly not the age of the characters they played, they expressed the playful energy of youth with a bouncy light air that allowed the audience to suspend their disbelief.

Right from the opening moment, the director, Dr. Asabi, brings the audience into the world she has created and keeps them there. Claudia and Pecola appear on opposite sides of the stage, and while Claudia begins to sing the rest of the characters appear and take their places standing about, in their own worlds. The director is letting you know instantly from the disparate staging and the inclusion of music that this show is not always literal, but is still able to evoke a deep emotional reaction and tell its story.

All of the actors and technical elements of this show worked together to provide a seamless and moving piece of theatre. I turned to a quote from George Bernard Shaw included in the playbill to sum up the show, “You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.” This production showed us the souls of all its characters and perhaps taught everyone a little bit about the importance of making people feel like their soul is beautiful.

The F-Word

By Alexi Siegel

It is here where I shall address the dreaded F-word. That’s right. Feminism. Which I shall be clear strives for the equality between the two genders not an over-bearing female dominated society reminiscent of the Amazons where men are slowly killed off and only kept around for their semen. From the beginning of time women have been getting the shaft because they were missing a… shaft. Even though we started off on seemingly equal grounds with Adam and Eve, problems of gender have grown dramatically since then and I mean dramatically both in the figurative and literal sense.

Theatre, which claims to be a progressive art form that allows for freedom of expression, still leaves women in the castles by themselves weeping while the men get to be gallant and are lopping each other’s heads off (aka doing the fun stuff). Male playwrights write the majority of shows, with the majority of the characters being male because that is what they know. Even if a female actor does get the occasional chance to grace the stage, their roles are never nearly as complex as their male counterparts. Where are the Lady Macbeths or Antigones of the modern theatre world?

I was thrilled to get the chance this week to attend KCACTF and see what the best and the brightest in Region IV had to offer in theatre. I was unbelievably excited to attend the workshop on Women in Theatre, oh wait, there wasn’t one. To be fair, there wasn’t a workshop about race or sexuality so at least we were consistently ignoring the prevalent issues in theatre today. Even though the shows themselves brought up some of the issues, there was no conversation afterwards. Why do a show that starts a conversation if you aren’t going to finish it?

The productions selected to perform represented a perfect slice of the issue. The shows were male dominated both in numbers and in strength of characters. Every single show (except for two which I will discuss later) had a larger number of male parts than female by over half every time.

However, the issue is not solely in numbers but the types of parts that are given to women. Three of the shows held promise that they would have strong females or at least an equal footing with the male parts, but they all ultimately fell short.

Morehead State University’s production of Amelia Earhart held an exciting prospect simply from the title. I thought: A show about America’s first female pilot, a pioneer not only in aviation but also in equality, how exciting! I was as misguided as the lovely lady herself because the show portrayed a woman who was created and pushed around by the two male characters onstage. Our strong, independent lady turned into a joke, running around popping her foot up while she kissed her husband.

There was little hope to begin when it came to She Stoops To Conquer, the restoration comedy put on by Valdosta State University, since the 18th century is not known for its women’s movements. The title once more alluded to the fact that perhaps this was about a woman who was able to use all of her abilities to triumph over all. However, the production put an emphasis on its male leads and the ensemble’s physical comedy, which, while amusing, ultimately detracted from the sexual jokes that the female leads could have used to gain power.

The production Memigery by University of South Carolina Upstate was a piece with a strong sense of ensemble, yet if closely inspected, the three women in the eight-person cast had very different stories to tell. While the men in the cast told stories about times in their lives when they were scared or discovered something new, the thread in the women’s stories was the destruction of their confidence by men. The third woman did not even get to tell a story.

The saving graces and two best shows of the week so far have been the play Breath, Boom, produced by NC A&T State University and North Carolina Central University’s production of The Bluest Eye. Coincidentally, these shows were casts filled with unbelievably talented women that took amazing risks physically, vocally, and emotionally to tell the heart-wrenching stories that their scripts called for. Breath, Boom told the story of Prix and her difficult journey to get out of the female gangs. The Bluest Eye told the story of Pecola, a young girl driven to hate and feel shameful of her very being by the horrific events in her life. The women of these productions masterfully navigated their complex characters, proving that women are more than capable of handling an intricate piece of work and making it breath taking.

So here it goes. The F-word. Congratu-fucking-lations to the ladies in theatre and their beautiful work. May progress continue to be made in playwriting, acting, and all technical design elements in theatre because a woman should never be told she cannot do the hard work just because she lacks something between her legs. The extra space just means more room for her talent.