Monday, 17 July 2017

Gun Dramaturgy: Texas Woman’s University @ Edfringe 2017

Guns, Colleges and Texas…What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

July 10, 2017 – DENTON – As of August 1, 2016 it became legal to carry a concealed weapon on a college campus in Texas.  Every private campus in Texas declined the “privilege.”  Every public campus was forced to comply in spite of universal resistance from university administrators.  

What was the inspiration for this performance?

We were inspired by the passage of Texas Senate Bill #11 aka Campus Carry.  SB 11 went into effect on August 1, 2016.  Over the summer prior to that, horrific acts of gun violence seemingly occurred at weekly if not daily intervals.  This violence hit particular close to home in July of 2016 when Micah Johnson used a Black Lives Matter rally in downtown Dallas as an excuse to assassinate five police officers.  

We wanted to have an opportunity to say something in the public sphere about the insane logic that seems to have gripped all American conversations and debates regarding guns and gun control. 

As all public campuses in Texas were opposed to the Campus Carry law and all public campuses were summarily ignored and silenced during the legislative process that brought about the law, we saw the theatre as a place where, in our own small way, we could add our voices.  

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

We certainly think it is.  But I think it requires both actors and audience to understand that part of discussion means active listening.  In a world where it has become absurdly easy to only listen to your own opinion echoed back to you this is perhaps a very big thing to ask. 

At least within the creation process, I know that the actors and designers were put into a position wherein they had to listen past their own biases to try and get at a point being made by a colleague.  

In and of itself I think that is valuable. 

There is something volatile and alive about the performance space that makes it work as a site of discussion too.  Before we debuted Gun Show in November of 2016, we produced Anouilh’s  Antigone in October. This was in the run up to the presidential election.  However, the production did not have an “American” or “election” setting. 

After one performance, an audience member, moved by what she had seen, stood up in front of the house and reminded everyone to vote, that the stakes were too high not too and that she would personally drive anyone in the house to the polls if they needed the ride. 

The actors, still on stage from the curtain call, were caught off guard, as was the audience.  Yet, that engagement and public interaction can only occur in the theatre.

How did you become interested in making performance?

I became involved in performance at a young age through a community arts center. I think my story is reflected in the stories of my students.  

Many of them too were first exposed to the live performance through a community theatre or arts center. I think it is the desire to create and tell stories and to connect with others that motivates us all.  In the case of the theatre program at Texas Woman’s University, I decided a long time ago that we would be as committed to creating new works as we are to revisiting the classics.  This means that devising and new play development play a fairly central role in our curriculum and programmatic offerings.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

This show was devised by the theatre students and faculty.  A summer was spent in researching the topic and creating various scenes, vignettes and scenarios.  After that, our playwright (Steven Young) took many of the ideas from the summer and shaped them with some of his own ideas coming into play as well.  During the fall, I organized a devising theatre course and we took all of the material and began to workshop it in class.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

It does and it doesn’t.  We do try to devise a new theatre piece once every three years or so and we do have a dedication to bringing new works to the stage. That being said, this piece is perhaps a bit more politically engaged than other works we have done.  In terms of a style again it fits
and it doesn’t.  We try to offer our students exposure to many different styles in there time studying with us.  As such, it certainly fits.

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

I hope the audience gets a sense that the opinions on guns held by Americans is so much more varied than is commonly seen in the public forum.  Hopefully , there is a sense of how these students wrestle with this issue and find it incomprehensible that a civil debate about guns and gun control is seemingly impossible.  I think many people in the UK look at the American obsession with guns and just scratch their heads in bewilderment.  

This piece can in no way undo that confusion (no piece can, I think) but perhaps it can at least show that there are Americans just as flummoxed and frustrated by the situation and who would like to see the problem handled honestly.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

We knew that some references and characters that we employed in November before an American audience would not read in front of a non-American audience.  We took some time in revisiting the show to clear up those references.  We also thought long and hard about some aspect of audience participation as a way of making a statement about guns.  

In the end we decided this was way too manipulative (in an issue that is already too prone to questionable manipulation) and kept the audience as traditional observers to the action onstage.

In response to the political pretzel logic that brought about “campus carry” Texas Woman’s University Drama Program devised Gun Show, an original play created with the collaboration of TWU Drama students, director Patrick Bynane and Associate Professor Steven Young. 

The ensemble researched America’s love, obsession and anxiety with guns and gun culture focusing on two of the most infamous mass shootings in state history: the 1966 tower shooting in Austin and the 2016 Dallas police ambush.  

Gun Show presents a kaleidoscopic collection of scenes and vignettes that explore our sometimes funny, sometimes scary and frequently reason-defying relationship with guns. 

Previews are Aug 4th and 5th and performances run Aug. 7-14.  All performance times are 10.20 and are located at Lime Studio at Greenside at Nicolson Square, Venue 209.

No comments :

Post a Comment