From Issue 28.3, November 2018
by Noe Montez
As the semester comes to an end, I am enjoying a moment of calm in which grades are entered, before summer-writing guilt kicks in, to reflect on my work in the classroom in hopes of improving on my courses next time I teach them. It is an opportunity to evaluate individual lessons that I thought were successful in fulfilling course objectives. I also appreciate thinking about the feedback that students generously offer in the classroom without having to parse their words through systematically biased course evaluations.
Strategies for assessment and application stand out as key ideas that describe and unite the essays and notes found in this issue of Theatre Topics. The projects and perceptions offered by our authors place emphasis on exploring classroom exercises, theatrical productions, and the efforts to engage neurodivergent spectators with an eye toward assessing whether activities and performances yielded the intended results.
Beth Osnes’s essay “Youth Shine in Performance for Resilience” documents her experience creating Shine, a musical about the relationships among fossil fuels, climate change, and political engagement. The first half of the production is professionally scripted, but the second half invites an ensemble of local youth in communities where the play is performed to develop scenes that offer solutions for their respective city’s environmental recovery. Osnes draws on eco-criticism and applied theatre practices to argue for the efficacy of using the arts to generate more community buy-in, especially among the youth, regarding developing new approaches for generating political change.
Next, Tony Perucci’s “‘The New Thing’: Three Axes for Devised Theatre” offers a complex and in-depth pedagogical approach for a devised theatre training process designed to create actor-creators rather than actor-interpreters. The essay outlines a three-step approach to a specific pedagogical sequence drawing from his experiences in the classroom and as a devised theatre creator with the Performance Collective. Perucci connects numerous practitioners and theories, including Mary Overlie and Viewpoints, to his pedagogical practice, while drawing from numerous classroom experiences to demonstrate and evaluate how The New Thing can be incorporated by other teaching artists who wish to teach devised performance processes.
Isaiah Wooden poses the question of what to do with stage directions when reading a play in a textually oriented classroom in his essay “How to Do Things with Stage Directions: Lessons from Contemporary African American Drama.” The author introduces the work of Tarell Alvin McCraney and Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins as object lessons through which to demonstrate that an attention to what stage directions do can help to elucidate the formal specificity and embodied potential of African American dramatic writing. Wooden provides examples from classroom exercises that have served him well in encouraging his students to dig deeply into the stage directions, rather than underestimating them, in order to understand how to better read and analyze a play.
Hannah Simpson turns toward audience engagement in her “Tics in the Theatre: The Quiet Audience, the Relaxed Performance, and the Neurodivergent Spectator.” The essay documents the ableist norms of theatre spectatorship in contemporary Britain and theorizes the work of “relaxed performances” in producing a more egalitarian public sphere. Simpson largely focuses on the modern emphasis on quiet audiences and the ways that a rethinking of the need for silence in relaxed performances might not only benefit neurodivergent spectators, but it might also place “a renewed emphasis on the theatre’s fundamental construction as a live, embodied encounter with other individuals” (227).
Irina Yakubovskaya’s note from the field “Multicultural Theatre in Times of Turmoil” is an interview with performing artist and arts administrator Maxim Tumenev. Tumenev worked at the Ilkhom Theatre of Mark Weil prior to taking a position with CEC ArtsLink, an international nonprofit arts-management organization with headquarters in New York City and St. Petersburg, Russia. In conversation with Yakubovskaya, he candidly addresses the differences between artistic exchanges such as international tours and what he calls collaborative arts practices. His perspectives on US and Russian bureaucratic efforts to collaborate are timely, as are his feelings about the need for Americans to embrace their freedom to assemble.
The online-only edition of this issue offers readers a rare opportunity to read a play within the journal. Jacqueline Lawton’s ARDEO is a one-act play inspired by health practitioners and patients at the University of North Carolina’s Jaycee Burn Center. She tells the stories of burn survivors and care providers with the intent to teach medical students and audiences about empathy and healing. The play supplements three exceptional notes on the process of staging and assessing the project. Lawton wrote a note titled “ARDEO: From Page to Stage” in which she articulates the inspiration for writing the play and the staging process. Dramaturg Jules Odendahl-James situates the play within the field of narrative medicine in her note “ARDEO: Chronicling the Lived Experience of Injury from Patient to Physician to Public.” In it, she defines narrative medicine as a practice of utilizing patient narratives as a way of validating their perspectives and encouraging self-reflection among physicians. Finally, Lawton’s second note, “ARDEO: Exploring Medical Humanities through Theatre,” is an interview with UNC medical student Nicole Damari, who assisted in creating the play. Theatre Topics does not intend to publish plays regularly, but this seemed to be an exceptional opportunity.
I conclude by saying that it is an honor and privilege to bring you this, my first issue of Theatre Topics as coeditor. I am grateful for having had the opportunity of shadowing Gwendolyn Alker and Lisa S. Brenner over the past year, and delighted that Lisa continues to mentor me in her role as editor. She has eased my anxieties about preparing my first issue and continues to be a model of collaboration and effective communication. Thanks also to managing editor Bob Kowkabany, whose efforts in tracking submissions, communicating with authors, and guiding me through the publication process are appreciated. Peter Campbell and Megan Sanborn-Jones deserve gratitude as well for their extensive labors as online editor and book review editor, respectively. I am also grateful for the reviewers who offer incisive and generative comments about authors’ essays, and for the work of editorial assistants Jessica Pearson-Bleyer and Teri Incampo, who bring a plethora of curatorial, editorial, and organizational skills.
I encourage readers to contact me and propose articles and notes from the field for Theatre Topics. Find me at ATHE or the field’s other major conferences so that we might discuss a project that you are working on. Reach out to me if an article in the journal provokes a strong opinion. Follow the journal’s Facebook page, engage with me on Twitter (@noemontez), or email me directly at email@example.com.