Dedication to the process – goal met!

Hi,

IMG_0320

This past weekend Morgan McGuire’s IN THE COTTON was performed, by a team made up of students from Howard, Prince George, and Carroll Community Colleges in Maryland, as part of the The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival at Indiana University in Indiana, PA.

I am thrilled.

This project started about three years ago when Bill Gillet reached out to me about the Maryland schools participating in The Farm Theater’s College Collaboration Project. At the KCACTF Region II in 2014 Bill talked with Scott Hudson about the program. Scott shared with him the experience he and his Ashland University students had working with The Farm. Ashland was our first school to participate. We had a second year of the program lined up. But it was very new. Bill reached out to me and wanted to see if we’d be willing to alter the model. Instead of the play being developed by three different schools independently – he offered three schools in Maryland collaborating together to develop the play. By working together, the vision was that the cast would come from all three schools, the design elements would stay the same; like the text and performances they would evolve with each production. The schools individually may not be able produce a production on their own that would be invited to present at the Festival. However, if the three schools combined their resources they could create something that would be of a caliber that could warrant an invitation.

Another shift in the program was suggested. Instead of having the writer picked the theme of the play, Bill brought a theme to the Farm: Race. It was right after the protests in Baltimore immediately following the death of Freddie Gray. Most of this is written about in an article in the Baltimore Sunbs-1509734661-rg8stzif9r-snap-image

However, what was not discussed in the article is that initially there was a different writer for the program. It was someone that was involved with social advocacy thru theater – participating in protests and working with arts groups that actively seeking change and discourse regarding issues of race.  They were being workshopped a lot but had not been produced. After being asked to participate in this program they were then offered multiple opportunities: a production, a writing mentorship, and graduate school acceptance. The writer declared that they wanted to and were committed to this project.

When the first draft of the play arrived it was an interesting intellectual investigation of class, capitalism, and art with an ethnically diverse cast of characters. However, the ethnicity of the roles excluded some students from the schools from being able to participate as actors and included ethnicities that were not represented on the campuses in the theater department and would make it incredibly difficult to cast. The play did not take place or have any geographical reference to Maryland. Not a requirement but the students did not feel like their experience was reflected in the script. To the schools credit, they committed fully to trying to be able to achieve the play.

What I enjoy the most about this program is that through the development of the script, the process benefits everyone involved: writer, departments, students, and communities. As the process progressed it became clear, as everyone worked to make this experiment work, that the only one that was going to fully benefit from this process was the writer. And honestly, not really because the play couldn’t be fully achieved.

A decision had to be made.

We decided to find a different writer. To develop a new play.

Morgan was on my radar because of a her play, The Red Room, that was presented in a very exciting production that summer. A mutual friend of ours told me that Morgan was writing a play about race. I read the draft. It was fascinating. I asked Morgan if we could meet to talk about her writing a new play for this program. In our meeting Morgan, without hesitation, rattled off her knowledge and thoughts on the issue, including referencing a book that specifically speaks to the history of race issues in Baltimore. It was clear she was the right person for the project.

I am so grateful that the schools still had trust in The Farm to make this recommendation and for our mutual commitment to make the project valuable for everyone involved.

Morgan went down for three days to work with students that were cast and begin to write a draft that would begin rehearsals for a production in…thirteen days. Thirteen days – and there was a draft that reflected the students experience with t19247916_1950764355157173_6452558395380481768_nhe issue at hand, their voices could be heard in the characters, and Morgan had created a context for the story that was in line with her interests and could create opportunities for growth and education for the students as they began to work on the play.

The choice to make the change was not about creating a production that was strong enough to be able to present at the KCACTF. The decision was to create a process that would be beneficial and exciting for all involved. It was clear immediately that it was the right decision. The students’ enthusiasm for the play and Morgan was palpable when I visited Carroll Community Campus to see the first production.  With each production: the cast got stronger, the design elements were refined, the script got tighter. After the Howard production – the production was invited to be presented at the KCACTF.

 

IMG_1629Morgan was invited to attend the KCACTF to be a respondent to students participating in the playwriting program. After the performance at Festival Morgan was invited on stage and was acknowledged with a standing ovation from the seven hundred students in the audience. Most importantly, the schools were recognized for their excellent work, their vision, and the value of collaboration.

I am so proud of everyone and grateful for their commitment to the process!  Congratulations on the product you created!

Talk with you soon.

Padraic

 

 

 

 

Never Have I Ever Ensemble talks with Counseling Center at BSC

Hi,

Yesterday the Birmingham Southern College’s ensemble presented the play for Sara Hoover, who works with the counseling center on campus and is a family counseling specialist. Below are a few bullet points of some of the discussion raised in the meeting with the theatre students yesterday after their performance.

Notes from Sara Hoover:
The scene performed raised various underlying themes including: (and this is not all-inclusive)

· Assumptions – about who would have an eating disorder and who would not – (examples of “only women have eating disorders” vs the applause of others who exercise to the extreme to be 0% body fat –particularly men. – we discussed the media’s influence on this and its impact. We discussed how early it starts – (middle school was a HUGE part of the discussion of when one begins typically to really feel the awkwardness in life and how powerful words are).
· Focusing on someone’s appearance in general to determine if they are “ok” or not
· How to feel comfortable in one’s own skin
· Self-care – knowing one must take care of self before looking after another person in any way
· What’s behind the behavior of “Ariel” – she’s seen as a monster in some ways but in reality, what was it in her life and family history that impacted who she has become? And the character of “Phillipe” and how we all know someone like him – who wants to exploit the vulnerabilities of other yet it’s due to his own insecurity
· Gender identity – biases and stereotypes
· Alcohol consumption with the intent of getting so drunk one throws up/purges and/or passes out
· Addiction in families and the impact of it in students’ lives here
· Bullying – through showing embarrassing videos/photos of others – social media and face-to-face comments/attacks
· Acting out of “concern” yet coming across to someone struggling as a police officer or interrogator – rather than a comforting friend who wants to be of support.
· Objectification of others
· Bigotry
· Self – image
· Body-dysmorphia and body image in general
· How to ask for help – — and why is it so difficult?
· Being intentional with our words with one another – even with our closest friends
· How no one really knows what’s going on with another person fully unless they are in their skin – so the assumptions that we can “harass” through “funny” comments is problematic – and oftentimes is a trigger for the person of something very painful

These are just a few of the topics we discussed. When I asked how can we address these issues more effectively beyond the production? I LOVED the answer that seemed to be the consensus of the group:

“We need to do this type of thing in groups with each other all over campus – (not having a faculty/staff or other outside speaker/adult professional come in) – but within our own groups, peer to peer having meaningful discussions about the problems we have and see.” One idea came up that all parties be suspended one night per month or so and have Greek Life and other groups that are in place have a topic of conversation within their own membership that night. “How cool would it be to have the same topic of conversation going on in small groups all over campus at the same time? “

End of notes03 - NEVER HAVE I EVER

I hope it helps to shape activities on campus. The goal of the College Collaboration Project is to have the same topic of conversation going in communities all over the country at the same time through the development of a play. I’m so grateful for all involved in the program willing to do the work of putting on the play and seriously examining the issues Jan’s text brings to the surface.

Thank you!

Padraic

Interview with Megan Pecot – Director of Birmingham Southern College production of Never Have I Ever

Name: Megan Pecot
Class of: 2018

What is the experience like to direct the first production of a new play?

It is very exciting to be able to work on a new play. This is not only the first production of Never Have I Ever, but my first time directing! I’ve learned so much already. Since this is a new play, we are completely on our own to create the world of the play. The actors are discovering their characters within the new script and it’s been amazing to see them bring the characters to life on stage for the first time. It feels much more personal, since there is no reference to look back to. On top of that, all of the technical designers are having the chance to create the first designs for the play – costumes, set, lights, and sound. I am so grateful I’ve been given the chance to guide and shape this production for the first time.

What is the value of being in contact with the playwright, Jan Rosenberg, during the process?

It’s extremely valuable to be able to talk with Jan Rosenberg. I had the experience of meeting her in NYC to help in the development of the play with The Farm Theater. That gave me a lot of insight into the world of the play. Since then, as we started the process of putting on the show at Birmingham-Southern College, I’ve contacted her with my own questions about characters, as well as questions from the actors. The whole process has been very collaborative and has helped me be more confident in my directing. It’s nice to know she is just an email away. I can’t wait for her to see it – I’m very proud of the work the company has been doing.

What has been useful in the process to connect your ensemble to the theme of the play, the issues addressed, as well as the personality of the play?

I think the most useful thing has been bringing in eating disorder councilors and specialists to talk to the company. It really gives everyone more insight into the issues of addictive behavior, specifically eating disorders. Once the actors have the concrete research, they can integrate that better into the stories of their characters. The cast and I did a lot of discussion early on in our process – I asked them all to bring in “biographies” and we discussed them as a group. This was useful – as it allowed them to flesh out their own relationships with the other characters as well as connect to their own. They also know they have access to councilors on campus. They understand how serious the issues addressed in the play are – but they have become such a strong ensemble and they play off each other for the funny moments as well.

cast photo NHIE
Cast Photo (from left to right):
Isabella Alday, Abbie Riggs, Jackson Massey, Colton Hinderliter, Stephanie Lee, Charlotte Schorle, Abby Henken

As a director, and as you shape the telling of the story – what is the experience you hope the audience has with the play?

I hope that it really opens the audience members eyes to the scale of the issues addressed. It’s not just Anorexia and Bulimia that are addressed in the play – but many unhealthy addictive behaviors. It’s important to be aware of them. The media is awful in portraying many of these behaviors as “healthy”, when they are not. Additionally, I hope the play expands people’s knowledge of eating disorders and gives way for discussions about them. This is not a dancer’s disease – eating disorders can affect anyone. I think it’s extremely important for the audience to learn that truth – and I hope this show leads them to it. I believe that theatre is one of the best ways to bring up these topics. Jan Rosenberg has created an incredible script and I hope we can expand people’s knowledge on these topics and have honest conversations by sharing this play.

 

A lot of conversation sparked thru play development in 2018

Hi,

The College Collaboration is off to a very exciting 2018. Jan Rosenberg’s play will have its first production at Birmingham Southern College starting January 25th. Jan and I will go out to see the play. I’m always thrilled to see the production and to know where the college brought the production to. The student’s commitment is always strong. However, most exciting is that this production is helmed by our first student director. From all reports it seems like it is going well.03 - NEVER HAVE I EVER

The play is about body image and many issues that come along with that. Some deadly. Some ingrained in our societal day to day life. I really appreciated hearing the students’ experience when the two schools, Birmingham Southern and West Chester, were in NYC this summer.

The week prior Howard Community College’s production of Morgan McGuire’s play IN THE COTTON will be presented as part of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival – Region II at Indiana 23167888_10100262680393452_1418054334710283753_nUniversity, in Indiana, PA.  That play is a cultivation of the development of the three productions at Carroll, Prince George, and Howard Community Colleges in Maryland. I am very excited to present the work at KCACTF because it will showcase the work and voice of the students for students around the entire region. A primary goal of the development of the plays with the schools is to have a long conversation about the theme of the play. In this case it is a conversation about race that is immediate and pressing in our society. I’m impressed with the script’s ability to capture all sides of the discussion – and each time I see one of the schools’ production I’m impressed by how much ownership the students have over their characters’ point of view and the topic as a whole. I’m excited to include all of the schools and students from the region into the conversation.

We will be announcing two new playwrights that have been commissioned for the 2018/19 academic year. Those conversations with the schools will begin in early February. Five schools are participating in the two projects this year. I’m excited to get the ball rolling.

I was reminded yesterday that infusing the academic world with a collaboration of professionalism heightens the experience for the student. It doesn’t make it better or worse. But it does heighten the awareness that the work matters. It will have a life well after the production. Their input will matter – and the conversation they started through the development of their play will continue with people and communities they haven’t even imagined as of yet. I feel that responsibility in the work and commitment from the students. It excites me that we will have four writers, five productions presented in 2018 – with four more to come in 2019. There’s a lot of conversation happening in 2018!

Talk with you soon.

Padraic