Fifteen minutes before our performance I waited with my fellow classmates in the cast room just outside of the recital hall. From the small room we could hear the footsteps and excited voices of the audience entering the stage, which had been creatively assembled for our piece of community theater, “Origins”. I tried to practice my lines in my head, but gave up. I felt ready. Over the previous six weeks that we generated from scratch Origins I had been preparing both in mind and body what would come next. It was a moment to soak up the joy that our hard work and deep exploration of our family stories and derived theatre had produced, so I took a deep breath enjoyed the moment.
What felt so real in the cast room, our first day of class seemed like a fantasy from an inspired, but perhaps over ambitious professor. I imagined COM 419, Social Justice and Theatre, would have involved some reading and a few drama exercises, but never that I would have been taking the stage, and performing a piece.
Sitting around one of several rectangular tables in the large conference room of modular 185, Dr. Goodwin explained, “We will be working over the coming weeks on a play about our family histories and basic stagecraft, which we will share with the renowned playwright, musician and Chicano activist Daniel Valdez. He will take look at what you have generated and help you assemble a play which you will perform for the community.” Looking around the room our makeshift theatre space didn’t inspire much confidence, yet the radically experimental design of this class made me at least want to begin exploring the process, even if I wasn’t fully convinced that the end goal was possible.
As a peace and justice major I had taken many classes that focused on protest, legal action, and education as form of social change. I had spend many day pondering how I could serve my community using these mediums, yet I was starting to feel tired and frustrated, and at times burned out. However, shifting my focus to theatre, a more creative and generative form of social activism, I felt reinvigorated and passionate in a new way. Many of the things we did, such as improvisation, storytelling using prompts, drawing, and more pure drama exercises allowed me to see my studies in a different light. Our class on a very personal level was helping me grow and I was learning a theatre process that as an activist I too could utilize in other communities and contexts.
Through this process I wondered, “why hadn’t I explored theater before?” I had been exposed to “theatre,” but in a very limited way. I had friends who were in the Regis Ramblers, and while their performances were impressive and entertaining, I never was exposed to anything other than this very traditional form of theatre. Had I been, perhaps I would have starting devising community theater and taken to the stage much earlier.
During our performance I can recall looking into the eyes of the audience and seeing their engagement, interest, and changing emotions. As my classmates moved about on stage performing their parts, histories became known, long forgotten events remembered, and a whole host of new questions arose. The conversation after the show around the catered hors d’oeuvres from Bon Appetit was a testament to the power of our work. Everybody became a participant in the show and in their own way was moved to reflect and act.
I would like to thank everyone who supported this class and project. Although I can not yet fully say what made this class so transformative and special, I am motivated to continue my exploration of devised theatre, and I would like to stress the important role and transformative capacity I feel it could have on the Regis campus if given more support.