Can I come again tomorrow?
Last week Morgan and I went to see In The Cotton at Prince George Community College in Maryland. The script was tight. The production had a response from John Gresh of Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival – which was very positive about the production, the students’ work, and the College Collaboration Project. However, my favorite response came from a fifteen year old audience member. A first year student had brought his brother with him to see the play. When he met the director, Peggy Yates, he immediately asked if he could come again tomorrow. He said, “I didn’t get the first ten minutes. Can I see it again tomorrow?” Peggy asked, “Were you late?” The fifteen year old responded, “No. I saw it. I didn’t understand it. But the rest of it is the best play I’ve ever seen.” Peggy put him on the list to see it again tomorrow.
The youg audience member was excited about the play for the same reason the cast was excited when I met them after the first production; the characters were talking about race in an honest relevant way to their lives. Not fully getting the beginning of the play was also great feedback. That is the part of the play Morgan is still working on. At the top of the play there is a collage of activity. Morgan has incorporated a voice over speech by Michelle Higgins that frames the work of the student organization, along wi
th projected images of recent protests at Ferguson, St. Louis, and most recently the student protests of 2014. On stage there is a gathering of students singing a song. This takes place at an on campus vigil.
These three elements form the world of the play. The images also begin to play with the idea of time in the play. Some of the images projected are from things that happen before and after the events of the play. Morgan is trying something to frame the world. It is very exciting. It is complex. The production was very close at achieving the idea – after seeing the second production of the play this is probably the main focus of the next level of development. The rest of the play, it is tight.
It was exciting to see the work mature. I agreed with what John Gresh shared with the students. Their work was deep and specific. It is clear that they have a relationship with issues in the play, they’ve matured their relationships to one another, and they have an affinity for the characters they play.
Morgan has done a wonderful job in the rewrite. The first draft was written very quickly and often the characters were stating things that framed the world of the play – outlined the conflict, gave context for who the individuals are, and stated the debate. In this second draft the text now is clearly the students talking to one another with a clear defined relationship with one another, a history, and a clear ability to speak in the moment about the personal of what is happening. There was no obligation for them to speak for the play or playwright. It is exciting second draft.
There were minor technical issues on the first performance. This was not a detractor. The videos enhance the story telling – but ultimately the script is so tight that the audience went on a very fast and powerful ride. I’m thrilled that the schools are having this conversation on their campuses.
Also in attendance for the play were a team of faculty members from Howard Community College that were talking with the director of the third production about ways to connect the themes of the plays to other departments on the campus. As was evident in the fifteen year old audience member the play is exciting and is inspiring conversations across the campus about a very important issue. It is in the voice of the students. And all of this successful because it is being brought to life by Morgan, who present this issue with great maturity and an elevated understanding of different points of views, a sense of history and of the conversation happening in this moment.
The school is about thirty minutes from Washington, D.C. In the morning of our second day of residence – before going to talk with Peggy’s acting class, Morgan and I took a drive to D.C. seeking out some inspiration. We went to the monuments and first one we came upon was MLK’s. The first quote on the wall seemed perfect for the play. “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenges and controversy.”