The play is a tool for conversation – our job is to develop the tool.

Hi,

We are beginning the Barnstorming Project in earnest. There’s been a design meeting. There have been rewrites. Auditions are next week. I’m excited for the conversation to begin. The project was initiated by three community colleges of different racial make up in Maryland wanting to share resources to develop a play that deals with race.

The project is always about developing a script. The productions, the collaborators are all working to develop the playwright’s script. Three productions on three campuses to talk about this play. The theme, the characters, the story…it’s going to be a vibrant conversation on an important issue. I’m looking ahead at the tool that this play will be for these schools and the communities they serve.

Just before the workshop the draft of the script arrives. It is about a group of artists squatting in an abandoned house. A story of recolonization. It’s going to be a high level conversation about race – society, culture. I’m excited. The driving action of the story wasn’t clear yet. The rules of the world weren’t yet defined. But the characters were alive, full, and energetic. The play felt very alive.

I didn’t notice upon first read that there were no causcasian characters. I would love to say, like Stephen Cobert, ‘I don’t see color.’ It’s not true. But when reading a play…I see want, action, and conflict. That, and cause and effect. However, as the workshop got closer  and I spoke with the schools – it became evident that there weren’t any white characters. One of the three schools is about 95% white. The conversation about the play shifted to how is that school going to participate in the development of the script.

It continues to be a conversation as we enter auditions. How do we serve the writer and the schools? It’s a good question. Everybody is working to do that…the way we are doing that is to focus on want, action, and conflict. And cause and effect. That’s a play. Strengthen those. Everything else is the unique personality of each play.

The development of a script allows for a long conversation on the themes of the play. The tool for learning and community. I want this tool to develop the writer, to develop the students, to enrich the community. I am becoming aware that this tool, this process, is also going to develop me. When we talk about race we talk about…everything.

I’m learning about the perspective of the world from a non-caucasian writer. I’m learning about how to have the conversation of inclusion with a room full of diverse artists. Diverse meaning non-white actors, a white Artistic Director and three white faculty members that have initiated this project. I’m learning about the lack of diversity not only in theater majors but in the faculty. I’m learning about how most people in academia are aware of this as something that needs to be addressed. I’m learning that we all have to work together – and be inclusive – to bring about this change. But inclusive can’t be at the cost of exclusion of others. That last sentence isn’t about who is in a play or isn’t represented in a play. That will take care of itself as the play evolves. It’s about making room for all voices – without silencing others. Empowering all voices.

That is what I love about this project. The empowerment of early career artists. I have heard the phrase “White people…” more times since the workshop than I think I have ever heard in my life. Now, I’m not “White people…” – I’m me. I’m not used to being part of a generalized group. It’s uncomfortable. And every time I’m uncomfortable I’m aware that people that don’t look like me have been part of a generalized group more times that I can imagine. An obstacle to empowerment is not recognizing the individual for their unique experience, perspective, and skill. I’m hearing that and feeling that and becoming aware of a barrier our society creates for people to be empowered.

All of this is why, especially at this time in our country, it is vital that we have a conversation about race. Which is why this play offers a tool for a conversation that needs to be had. What I am reminded of today is the conversation is had through the play…but the most effective way to develop the play is to focus on want, action, conflict. And cause and effect.

The play is a tool for conversation. But our job is to develop the tool.

Talk with you soon.

Padraic