Students, faculty, and Walla Walla community collaborators have been diligently working to create the original, devised piece “Because You Are Here”, showing next weekend at Harper Joy Theater. Maddy Gold, a senior Theater major whose work on the production will contribute to her senior thesis, collaborates during this project alongside Walla Walla community member and social choreographer Tia Kramer. Below resides an interview between Maddy and Tia where Maddy inquires about the content of the piece, the impact of making it here and now, and the potential of its reach toward an upcoming audience.
How would you describe “Because You Are Here” to someone that doesn’t know anything about it?
“Because You Are Here” is a devised theater play based on interviews with immigrant and first generation members of the Walla Walla community. Typically a theatre production will begin with a script written by a playwright. Devised theater inverts this classic hierarchy: the play is written by all the members of the cast, in our case these are the students in the Fall 2018 Devised Theatre and Social Practices Course at Whitman College as well as community members who joined in the process.
“Because You Are Here” embodies questions and experiences of migration that are shaping our nation and our town. We asked our neighbors to share their moments of exclusion and belonging, invisibility and courage. We then invited those interviewees to contribute as editors, observers and creators in the theatre-making process.
So “Because You Are Here” is the culmination of a semester long project?
For those of us involved in the process,“Because You Are Here” is not the culmination of this project but rather one way for us to share our participatory research with the public.
For me, the real creative work of this project, as a whole, lies not in the final creative forms but rather in the process of developing them. The process itself is a way for us, as collaborators–whether community members or Whitman students and faculty–to deepen our understanding and personal relationship to a series of issues that deeply affect our community.
What effect do you hope that the show will have on the Walla Walla Community? On Whitman?
I hope that the work might spark curiosity in audience members, a curiosity that could be catalytic. The issues of immigration and migration are very divisive at a national level, but when we look at it up close in our small community it becomes humanistic. These are our neighbors! I’ve heard interviewees and students alike say that that by sharing individual stories and life experiences they hope that those who hear them might feel more empathetic.
A question collaborators in the classroom have asked many times is, “How can we fight apathy?” We hope that this performance might spark an audience member to ask that of themselves: “What can I do here in Walla Walla to create a more equitable community for all of the people who live here?” Because of the personal relationships they have created and life stories they have heard, students in the class have been inspired to action. Many have joined WWIRC and some Whitman’s Borders As Methods group on campus. They have begun educating themselves and taking political action when they can. They want to share these experiences and inspire others to create experiences of their own.
We are also making this piece for the people we interviewed and others who, like them, have experienced exclusion and invisibility in Walla Walla but who call this their home and know it is the place they belong. “Because You Are Here” is shifting the standard expectation of theatre by featuring the voices and life stories of people from our small community who typically would not see their stories on stage or in the public eye. Their stories are important enough, first and foremost to be heard and recorded through our interviews. They are important enough to be shared on stage. They are important enough to be archived as part of Walla Walla’s history (which is another thing we as a cast are doing as a part of this project). And, they are important enough to continue to conversation. In an ideal world we would multiply that experience and show this play in other venues throughout the community. But for now, we will start with the performance on campus. What comes next is still unknown. We are trusting that the momentum of these collaborations will continue beyond this semester and beyond this play.
How has your involvement in this production changed your perspective on our community?
Before this project I approached civic or community engagement in a rather academic way. But sitting down and talking to people who have very different life experiences than me, understanding what motivates them and what pressures they feel in life, and truly hearing their stories has renewed my commitment to active, embodied civic engagement. There is great power–and great vulnerability–in that.
Listening, truly listening, is a power that each of us have. And listening to our community members creates a feeling and a network of support. The power of that action, simply listening is really moving to me. And it is also vulnerable. As playwright and Walla Wallan, Afrika Brown, told our class, “To be a witness is to be vulnerable because you are being trusted to tell this person’s story. You now bear some of the responsibility of that story…there is also power because you can ensure as the storyteller that the story is not forgotten.”
We invite you to join in active social engagement by listening to the experiences of your neighbors and asking them what you can do to support them. Be a part of the audience, but even more importantly a part of our community and maybe through truly listening you can perform with us.
Buy your tickets for “Because You Are Here” online or at the Harper Joy Box Office on Whitman College campus, open 12-4P M-F. Showing Thursday, December 6th-8th @ 8pm, *Saturday, December 8th @ 2pm & Talk Back with collaborators after performance, Saturday, December 8th @ 8pm. This production is not intended for children.
*Spanish interpretation provided at this matinee performance & during talk back.