Category Archives: Farm Report

Paper to the South East Theater Conference – by Rachel Kent, Centre College Student

I’m Rachel Kent and I’m currently a Junior at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. This year, for the second time in my college career, I’ve had the opp

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Rachel Kent as South East Theater Conference

ortunity to work on a brand new piece of theater. While this may not sound like an earth-shattering experience, working on these projects have become some of my fondest memories at Centre, and perhaps doing theater at all.

But how does a tiny school in the middle of nowhere end up with an opportunity like this? The answer is the Farm Theater in New York, and its college collaboration project. Padraic Lillis, the founder of the Farm, describes its name as coming from the Farm System of baseball – the idea of growing new talent and building up the sport or the art from the ground up. In baseball, hands-on practice and experience is what gives a leg-up – and increases the likelihood that the farm players will make it to the big leagues. So, too, then, does the farm focus on hands-on experience – giving early-career playwrights some “playing time” and allowing them to work their way up to whatever the big leagues may mean to them. The Farm Theater has become so much more than a training platform, though – it focuses on building a community of mentoring, support, and growth (which makes the traditional meaning of the word Farm not all that far off either).

Here is a description of the Farm Theater College Collaboration project, in Lillis’ own words:

“Three schools commission an early career playwright to write a play that each school will independently produce throughout the academic year. The playwright, faculty, and students collaborate throughout the year in the development of the text. The script will be a full-length play with a minimum of five characters. The majority of the characters will be under thirty years of age so that undergraduate actors can successfully play the roles.

The project commences with the playwright interviewing students of the participating schools on the topic she will be exploring through the development of the play. The playwright writes for six months and then the play is workshopped in NYC in August with professional actors. Faculty and students from the schools are invited to participate in the NYC workshop. The schools then each produce the play independently during the academic year. The playwright is in residence for part of the rehearsal process for rewrites and attends the productions. The project culminates in a public reading of the play in NYC with a cast made up of professional actors and student actors from each of the schools.”

In the Event poster Centre

poster from Centre College production

 

I am lucky enough to have been around for two of these college collaboration processes. My first year at Centre, we commissioned our first College Collaboration project. Our playwright was Lindsay Joy, and she gave us her beautiful play, In the Event of my Death. Lindsay herself talked to me about what she considered to be the benefits of the farm from the playwright’s side. She says:

“My favorite part of the process was the actual time I had to spend with the students during the rehearsal process. I was fortunate enough to have a long weekend with the cast of In the Event at Centre in the thick of it, right when they were just off book. I really got to shape and mold and re-write with an informed sense of character because the students did such specific work. It made that re-write the most significant of the program, and I think it made for a good show. For me, there is nothing as beneficial as the change that happens in a rehearsal room, and during the crisis of production. When you can cut/add/rework a scene with smart actors? It’s the best.”

We were the second school to tackle In the Event, and I was a lowly Assistant Stage Manager, desperate to be involved in any way I could. Even so, it was the most incredible experience for me as a student. Her play was one of the first I had ever worked on that dealt with things that immedia

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In The Event – Curtain Call

tely impacted me as an almost 20-year-old – it talked about people my age, coming back to their hometown after college, deaing with suicide and sexuality and love and friendship. It was one of the best-received plays I’ve worked on to date at Centre as well, selling out completely for both nights of our limited run. Being the second sc
hool to get the play, we were able to see a substantial number of rewrites both from the initial first draft we received and throughout the process itself, and a lot changed afterward because of us. A lot of students felt that they personally created their characters, and took serious ownership of them – it was an incredible thing to watch. A real family was formed, and even the scared little freshman was welcomed into the process. It was surreal in a lo
t of ways, and made me endlessly excited to get to do it again.

A dear friend of mine and one of the lead actors from In The Event of my Death, has this to say about her experience:

“There are an endless number of good things I could say about the Farm’s College Collaboration Project, but I think the most important feature that the students benefit from is a better understanding of a truly collaborative process. Most college-aged theater kids have spent their years putting on Cinderella and various watered-down Shakespeares and have no clue what goes on in a collaborative setting or where to begin with an original piece. It is an invaluable experience to talk to the creator of a character that you are inhabiting. I would even call it a luxury. However, with that luxury comes a much greater responsibility because the playwright is watching every choice you make and possibly even changing the script to reflect what they liked or disliked about your performance. Seeing how important your character is to the playwright makes your character even more important to you and when you have a cast full of people who are greatly invested in their characters individually, the ensemble becomes intense and fortified. The collaborative nature of this project is truly unlike any other. My love of theater was refreshed and renewed and I wanted to pursue theater for a whole slew of reasons that I never knew existed. I also felt 1000 times more prepared to enter a professional setting, because they already treated us like professionals. Anyone who has the privilege of being a part of the college collaboration project will leave a better member of the theater community, 100% guaranteed.”

Another student has similar things to say, describing the process as:

“An opportunity to step into a fresh new work in which my interpretation of a character is valued by the playwright themselves, which is extremely rare for an actor, especially a young one. My experience during In the Event of my Death shaped me as an actor more than any other show I have ever done for this reason. I was able to live inside my character and grow as a performer as she grew and developed as a person in the script. Since I was able to grow with my character, I was able to connect to the script on a much deeper level than I had before and now I am able to apply that ability to connect to other scripts I am handed later because now that I have worked so closely with a playwright it gives me a whole new perspective when I’m performing. The playwrights are always in the room with me, whereas they never used to be before.”

The second time around, the initial skype call happened while I was in England studying abroad. I was filled in by my cohorts that the play was going to be about gender. It seemed super interesting, and the bar was set high by In the Event, so I couldn’t wait to get back to Centre and get started! A little bit later in my trip, I got an email from Matthew Hallock, who is the chair of our department, a sort of liaison to the farm people, and my boss. He asked me if I would be interested in coming to New York for the initial table reading.

Would I be interested?!?! I was ecstatic!! That August, I met up with Matthew, Patrick Kagan-Moore, director of both Farm projects to date, and another student and friend of mine. I didn’t really know what to think, but I’m an energetic, outspoken person and as we got going I let my reservations go. The table reading took place across the street from the Public, something I noted immediately. Around the table sat professors from one of the other two schools working on the project this go-around, plus a smattering of students. Represented was SUNY Brockport, and distantly supportive was University of Western Florida, who, understandably, couldn’t make it to New York. Additionally present were, our playwright, Micheline Auger, farm director Padraic Lillis, and half a dozen professional New York actors. It was a diverse, enthusiastic, wise, and giving group and after a couple hours of reading and discussion, a few things became clear.

  1. This play was no longer about gender. Suddenly, it was dealing with the very real, very prevalent issue of sexual assault on college campuses.
  2. Micheline was the coolest darn thing, and all these professionals sitting around me were intimidating and wonderful.
  3. I did not like her main character.

Fearless, or perhaps foolish, as I am, I decided to focus on that last point, and vocalize it. Micheline was clearly taken aback. Who was this random person to come in and criticize her otherwise very brave, very wonderful piece of work? I remember walking out of the room that day and looking at my friend. “Oh my god, that was too much, wasn’t it?” He sort of shrugged it off, but my stomach was in knots the rest of the evening.

After seeing some shows and wandering around New York taking it all in, we reconvened the next day for much of the same. That night, however, Micheline was going to do some rewrites. That final day, we all came together and there was an almost entirely new play in front of us. It was incredible seeing the process firsthand like that – and the most

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workshop in New York

wonderful part was that she had actually listened to me and made some edits to the character I had so vehemently disliked. She, a professional playwright, had listened to me!! That was the first distinct moment where I felt the scope of just how lucky I was – I was sitting in New York city surrounded by brilliant collaborators, and I had something to say that was valued and taken into account to improve a piece of art!

This time around, we were the last school to perform the show. When we auditioned the play, the show was titled Your Wings Have Eyes, but by the time of our first read-through in November, we had a new title: Love 95 times. By early January, the start of rehearsal process, everyone was raring to go. I, usually a16708739_1886412301592379_4635506758090955775_n-1n actor, was somehow shifted into the role of Stage Manager, which was an entirely different personal journey in itself. But I couldn’t be more grateful – it allowed me to be close to the process from beginning to end in a way that almost no one else was. It amplified that feeling I had first experienced freshman year and that I encountered again in New York – I wasn’t just a student, I was an artist and a collaborator.

At Centre, we have a slightly different schedule – we have two normal-length semesters, but we also have a third term, sort of like a J-term. We call it CentreTerm, and it lasts for the month of January. During that time, students take only one class, and it meets for three hours each day. This works out splendidly for the theater department, because it means we got to work on both of the farm plays as a class. For In the Event of my Death, the show had a small cast which meant that all the actors and designers, the stage manager, and the AD got to be in the class. This time, however, Love 95 times by the time it went up included a large group entity that became essentially a type of chorus. In a department as small as ours, we needed to pull people who couldn’t necessarily be in the class, but who we needed as part of the process. Because of this, we divided the cast into principles and chorus members, calling the principles for work during the class day and calling the chorus members for traditional after-class rehearsals. We also included our costume designer, props designer, and video designer in the class, as well as myself. This meant long days for the director and myself, but a much more inclusive process than we were able to have in the past.

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Centre College By-Stander/Hoodie Chorus

In terms of the benefits of the process, they cannot be overstated. For both the designers and the actors, getting to work with the playwright throughout the process was invaluable. It felt like working on a professional new writing show – rehearse all day long, call up the playwright if you need her. Micheline flew in to visit us for a weekend during the process, and came back at the end to see the show in its entirety. She consistently sent us tons of rewrites and was always available for questions, comments, or concerns. We really appreciated her support, talent, and bravery throughout the process. One of our actors says:

“The process of the farm show was different than the other shows we do here at Centre. Not only was this show a class, but it was also being revised and rewritten as we went along. The fact that it was developing with us was very cool. It was interesting to see the changes and edits the script went through and how that translated onto the stage. It felt like I was constantly learning new things about my character and about myself as an actress and it was challenging and fun to experience.

From a design perspective, our costume designer for Love 95 times says of the process:

“It’s intimidating to have a playwright looking at your stuff…particularly in terms of a show that doesn’t have a lot of references to costume in the script. I wa

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Libbie Sparks (Jenny) in Centre College

s given a lot of freedom which is exciting and scary! One time she just came in and looked at my designs and mentioned that I went in a completely different direction than the de
signers at the other schools, which is something I’m proud of, but also something that initially made me pretty nervous. One thing that really excited me was the super cool advantage of having the playwright there to fill in the ‘gaps of affirmation’ between my ideas, the directors’ ideas, and the thoughts of the other designers. She made sure it was cohesive and consistent with her own vision – a luxury that most designers don’t get to have. Getting to see the process change and to witness how organic the show became was super unique because usually we only see the finished product, and getting to see the messiness of her earlier stages was encouraging and humanizing – it also made me

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post show discussion with the cast at Centre College

feel like I was allowed to make mistakes in my process before I found the final product that I wanted to put onstage.”

Now that the show has gone up and down, the next stage of the process is the reading in New York. I, as well as t
wo other Centre Students who were actors in Love 95 times, are lucky enough to follow this process to New York, and right up to the end. I couldn’t be more excited to see how the play unfolds and see it through – hopefully to the big leagues one day. There is no doubt in my mind that without the college collaboration project, I would never have the opportunity to follow a show like this through so many stages of its life, and I am so grateful for it.

Overall, the College Collaboration is beneficial to the schools, the playwrights, and the plays themselves.

Micheline Auger, our second Farm playwright, says:

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playwright Micheline Auger

“Why does the Farm College Collaboration work? Because plays (and theater artists) need to be developed in front of an audience and, as Todd London’s book Outrageous Fortune brought to light, it’s hard enough for the average play to get one production (if they’re lucky), it’s near impossible to get two or three. With the Farm’s College Collaboration, the new play receives three different productions at three different universities, and the beauty of it is that everyone benefits. The students get to see what it’s like to work on a new play and experience the thrill and ownership of contributing to it’s development; the community gets to take part in a meaningful conversation and also feel ownership in the play-making process; the playwright is provided the opportunity to work her craft at a high level and the universities get to contribute to building the canon of New American Plays. This is a worthy investment. I feel extremely enriched by this experience and what I’ve heard from the student collaborators, faculty and audience members is that they feel the same. This, to me, is the measure of success.”

However, I think the biggest benefit is for the students. Getting to work on and have a hand in the development of a new play is a unique, hugely rewarding experience that most undergrads don’t get a chance to participate in. I wouldn’t be the same artist I am if not for the two rounds of the Farm – I have more confidence to speak my mind, a better working knowledge of the processes I want to be a part of for the rest of my life, and a deeper appreciation for all the different jobs that go into putting together a play. Most of all, though, the farm theater college collaboration project teaches students that they are worthy – that they are artists, not just bodies on a stage, and that they are valuable parts of the process not just because of their ideas, but because of who they are as people. It builds confidence, trust, support, teaches teamwork, and creates magical new theatrical experiences – changing the lives of everyone who is lucky enough to be a part of it.

7,000 Cotton Balls

Hi,

“The only thing I care about in the first production is that the stage is covered with cotton balls.” – Morgan McGuire, Playwright – Tanner and the cotton.

The event of the play centers around an act of vandalism. Two students have placed a lot of cotton balls and signs that read “Cotton Picker” in front of a dorm whose residents are predominantly African American. That is the inciting incident that kicks off the action of the play. To have its impact – theatrically we want to see this. Seeing it strengthens the audience’s ability to engage in the ongoing discussion about the intention behind the event and the actions required to hold the students accountable.

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7,000 Cotton Balls fell from the sky! They covered the stage floor and steps of the dorm. It was quite impactful. Moments like this illustrate the value of a full production in the development of a script. We are able to feel the impact of a theatcbp_6222tannercbpick-2rical moment that the story turns on. There are many ways to address something. And over the next couple of productions I am sure that the
cotton ball drop will be finessed or done in a different way to match the ideas of the physical productions at the other schools. But seeing it – helps strengthen the commitment to the impact the act has and the need to see it for the success of the argument that motivates the play.

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Also, the play takes place today so there is a lot of technology used by the students. They live stream the protest and FaceTime with family members. This technology was utilized in the production very effectively. The production also built off of this element to include slides of images of civil rights protests from Fifty years ago – and today. These images lifted the play out of a discussion of one incident on one campus to being part of a national discussion.

The development process of a play is always much greater through getting to realize the physical life of the play. Moving it beyond the ‘reading’. I am so grateful to our partner schools that commit to the process of fully producing a play that it is yet to be written. The commitment of everyone – director, actor, designer, crew, stage managers, all -give the play and playwright the  security and foundation to be able to grow as much as possible. Each artist’s investment strengthens the play and lives in it as it grows.

I look forward to watching the development of all aspects of Tanner and the Cotton. It is off to a very good start!

Talk with you soon.

Padraic

The play that fits in the mouth of the actors

Hi,

Last night I saw Morgan’s play Tanner and the Cotton at Carroll Community College. Because this play was started later than the others it did not have the benefit of a three day workshop in New York before starting rehearsals at the first school. This play was being written as rehearsals started.  The first production is truly a workshop production – for the writer. Morgan is truly learning about the play through this process. She is learning about it like you learn about a new friend – Who are they? What do they have in common? What passions do they share? How do they connect to one another? It is truly a new relationship.  I understood this through my conversations with Morgan as we both talked about how to use the process of the first production. What I didn’t take into account of the very fast process of putting the play together was that I had not gotten to know the play intimately as  I am used to. I didn’t get to get to know it through a day workshop of questioning at the culmination of months of talking about the theme of the play and potential structure.

My concerns were about Morgan connecting to the themes, were the students feeling as though they were heard in the process of creating the play, is everyone excited about the conversation that can be had through the development process. All good questions – but as I entered the theater to see the play I realized I was preparing to meet the play and the actors for the first time. I was happy to be greeted with photos of the cast and the theater space is beautiful.

I sat down with some excitement of meeting a new friend in the play. I knew the ideas were good from my conversations with Morgan. I trusted Jane, the director, from our conversations from the beginning of the process. But realizing I hadn’t heard the words said out loud before I was excited and a little nervous to see how it worked.

At the top of the play the students entered the stage and starting moving scenery and setting up chairs for the first scene and there was a confidence that let the audience know that they got this. This is their play. And as soon as they started talking it was clear that this was a play for them. Or of them. It was theirs. They owned the language. They owned the issue. They owned the play. I love the College Collaboration Project because it is thrilling to have the actor speaking about things that are from their immediate experience. Not only did the cast own it but you could feel a sense of security, familiarity, and investment from the audience. This is their play too.

Afterwards the actors shared their appreciation of feeling like they were being represented on stage. That they were connected to who they are playing. They were surprised by Morgan’s ability to listen to them in rehearsal over a very short time and to be able to capture an essence of them that would appear in the character. However, I’m not sure Morgan was writing specifically for each actor but what I do know is that each actor felt as though they knew who they were playing. They felt close to it – and that gave them an ownership.

One actor is in her first play. You wouldn’t know it. She credits the support of the cast, writer, director, and whole team – working together on this project along with the trust of having to share bravely and openly on the topic throughout the process. All of that is vital. However, the first step is recognizing the value that the students’ experience bring to a theme or issue that a writer is writing about – and then bringing that experience out through the play.

I like this new play. I’m excited to see how the play and artists mature throughout the process. I am confident that this play and I will be friends. That confidence was born the moment the performance started and it was clear that the play fits in the mouth of the actors.

Talk soon.

Padraic

Trust the process

Hi,

I am grateful for the trust of the schools in the upcoming College Collaboration Project with MACPACC (Carroll, Prince George, and Howard Community Colleges). Next week I’m going down to see the first production of Morgan McGuire’s play at Carroll Community College. I went online to look for a poster to include in this blog post. I realized there isn’t a poster for the show. The information online reads: The Farm Theater Project. The reason there is no poster is because until a month ago there was no play.  Morgan went down to Carroll Community College to work with the twelve actors cast and the director to develop an idea of a script January 12th. She had a full draft of the script 13 days later.

So in lieu of a poster: Here is an image of Philadelphia 76er basketball player Joel Embiid. 122016_joel-embiid_1200

The 76er’s General Manager said to their fans that they needed to ‘trust the process’ when it came to the rebuilding of the talent of their team.  In attending a 76ers game recently I was tickled to learn that they nicknamed Embiild “The Process” because he is the only one of four first round draft picks to pan out. It was good lesson on having a sense of humor, staying committed to the goal, and to trust the process because everyone involved wants it to be as successful as possible.

In this college collaboration project the first writer and script for the project presented challenges for the schools. It had roles they couldn’t cast and it excluded certain groups of students from participating. Not every first draft works out. I am learning a lot about trying to talk about race through collaboration. However, I am grateful and excited about Morgan taking the lead on the project.  I am impressed with her ability to capture many sides of people trying to address the issue on a college campus. The play is an exciting reflection of the need to address the issue in our society. However, the main thing I am learning is that the most valuable skill in collaboration is listening. And time. Successful collaboration takes time.

Since writing the draft Morgan has been down to rehearsals for two days and has done some rewriting. In absence of the three day workshop in NYC – her and I met for two hours in a coffee shop and she’s been in discussion with the schools. This coming week Morgan will see a dress rehearsal of the play. I will see a performance in front of an audience. And then she will have a month to do rewrites.

In absence of time to prepare for a workshop – The cast, production crews, design team, and Morgan are diving right in. They are sharing a first draft with the audience. The audience is being invited in to be part of the development process in a deeper way than has been explored through our program in any previous collaboration. Their response will be vital in our learning about the play because the play is so new – we really don’t know what it is yet. That is exciting. That is scary. Maybe not scary…but courageous of all to be willing to be fully in process in front of an audience.

The schools believe in the value of having the conversation on the issue of race with their students,  artistic partners, and audience. I am grateful for their trust in the process. And ultimately that is the most important element necessary in a successful collaboration – trust.

Talk with you soon.

Padraic

Three shows – each one’s the charm

Hi,

The play at Centre College opened on Friday and closed on Saturday. Both performances were fantastic. Both post show discussions were thoughtful and rich. As I’ve written about many times – my favorite part of the process is the year long conversation that occurs throughout the development process.16708402_1886869218213354_5574486288457936558_n

As I returned from Centre I didn’t have time to fully appreciate the success of the show. The next day called for setting up conference calls with next year’s schools and playwright Jan Rosenber and to schedule the trip down to the first production of Morgan McGuire’s play at Carroll Community College at the end of the month – and to think about the public reading of Micheline’s play in NYC in June.  It keeps moving. And all of those projects are enriching. And have a unique personality.

As I started having conversations about the casting of the reading in NYC  of Micheline’s play it became clear that the success of the process of developing #Love95times is the unique personality of the each of the three school and their productions. They each succeeded on their own and consciously or not supported the success of each other. SUNY Brockport – the first production gave an honest thorough workshop production of the play that Micheline had written. phonesIt let her see the ‘hoodie’ chorus for the first time in how she intended it. Uniformed. Chorus. Group of by-standers that become empowered as the story evolves. They gave just the right amount of technology to let us see how the ‘Skype’ calls and scoring of the play worked. The performances were well connected and flushed out that served the text and relationship of the story. For the first time out of the gate it really highlighted all of the elements that were in the play.

UWF’s ensemble began as a classroom workshop of the play that evolved into the students fully claiming ownership of the topic of the play. This was put on display through the arena presentation that starts with feet stamping of the entire cast introducing the play to what feels like an Olympic wrestling match between the sexes. The students made a documentary on the topic. They took over the design elements. The students that worked at the counseling center took the charge of connecting counseling with the production. They presented the campus’ first 10:00pm presentation of a department production. It was student driven and student owned.  They even created the image for social media invitations.15095438_1299531633401329_5814915833908358311_n

Centre College consciously or not built off of both models. Also a classroom project. Elements that were workshopped at the other schools were developed into fully realized design elements. The campus counseling center was engaged. The students owned the topic. The department was invested. It was a full scale production with individual choices. This production allowed each chorus member to have an individual personality. Something that made it feel like it was happening on their campus today.dsc_0438-xl

The production could afford to break out of the uniform feeling of earlier productions because we knew that worked. We could use video in this production because SUNY Brockport had shown us the value of that – and when going to more of a story telling format – we knew the value of that because of UWF – Centre built off of that. Whether intentional or not on their part – the building and sharing of ideas became valuable for Micheline to see her play. She could try something new in each production because she had already seen what worked and there was security in which to try new ideas. Or security to say what needed to be reexamined.

The value of the multiple production isn’t just the idea of growth by building on what was done before. The value resides in the broader base of collaborators. The unique personalities brought into the room of each process. The questions, conversations, and solutions discovered by each add value to the whole. The whole being the life of the play. I’m grateful to each school.

And as I prepare to see Morgan’s play and begin the engagement process with Jan’s play. It is the unique process of each that make it valuable for the writer. Development is not a formula it is a process of discovery. I am grateful that each school and writer have their own process. That they fully share themselves for the development of one another.

Talk with you soon.

Padraic

 

Love 95 times

Hi,

At Centre College seeing the third production of Micheline’s play #Love95times. (She just added the hashtag…and changed the title completely between production two and three.) The maturity of the play throughout the process is wonderful. Each school’s productions have had their own personalities and each proved valuable to the development of the script. What I am most excited about and proud of is the process of the program. The idea of having a conversation on an issue through the development of a script for 16 months.

The production at Centre – incredible! Here are photos:

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However, the conversation is what’s key. After the performance there was a post show discussion facilitated by the theater department and the counseling center. About half of the 300 or so audience members stayed for the talk back. They all agreed that the play touched on the issue of sexual assault on campus in a fully dimensional and honest way. What struck me was the sincerity in the questions and responses from both the cast and audience.

One question was: While working on this sensitive material – how did you talk with each other about it? Was it different?”

The cast got to talk about the trust that they had and built with each other in order to be so honest, vulnerable, and not necessarily their best selves while performing. The honesty and trust is key.

They were asked about their perception and experience leaving rehearsals and re-entering the campus life. Was it different?

Yes it was. They felt stronger. They felt more aware of the issue. They felt empowered to do and say something. They felt less willing to participate or observe behavior that was unacceptable. They were more aware.

The idea that resonated with the audience was that saying and doing something to correct or stop dangerous behavior when you have a lot to lose is the challenge. That is the struggle in life. It’s easy to do the right thing when it won’t cost you. What prevents us from doing it? Overcoming that is where bravery live.

In the play a character points out that In the Decent of Man Darwin mentions survival of the fittest twice and love 95 times. There was a discussion of love. Love is being strong when it isn’t easy. Love is willing to risk your personal vulnerability for the protection of others. That is what I see the artists that are collaborating on this project doing. They are bravely sharing themselves to have a conversation that isn’t easy to have. A conversation with themselves, each other, and their community.

There were many comments that spoke to the value of the play. One audience member said “This play should be seen by every in coming freshman class at each college in America.” That’s a powerful endorsement. But the one that will stay with me is from the actor that played the self defense instructor who gets to teach a class during the play for the chorus and the audience shared with me that she “never felt more powerful in my life.”

I love this project.

Talk with you soon.

Padraic

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

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