Recently, the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) asked me to write a regional spotlight on what I see happening in Michigan theatre. My short article is below. Enjoy!

Regional Spotlight: Midwest – Michigan
Spot Op: Amanda Grace Ewing

“I keep a variety of quotes from this year’s LMDA Conference on my phone, which I revisit when I’m feeling stuck or need some motivation. In the past couple of months, I’ve begun to look for a note as I scroll: “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Affliction: trouble, burden, distress, oppress. Comfort: console, solace, support, uplift. Both of these verbs suggest a physical act of resistance and remind me that bodies carry text. As the national conversation around equity and diversity becomes more robust, theatre companies in my region, Southeastern Michigan, are more purposefully considering the dramaturgy of bodies: who gets to tell what stories and how? Who is afflicted and who is comfortable?

My artistic home is BoxFest Detroit (BFD), an annual one-act theatre festival that showcases local female-identifying directors. BFD has, and continues to, function as a springboard for local women and their directing careers. This year, when the organizers met to plan the festival, we began with strategizing how to leverage our visibility as an organization in order to serve more directors. In response to this challenge, we launched a new mentorship program. In this inaugural year, there were two mentorship opportunities available: Assistant Directing for Frannie Shepherd-Bates and the Tipping Point Theatre Sandbox Directorship. The first award granted a director a stipend and the opportunity to shadow, learn, and collaborate with a regional, experienced, female-identifying director at an Equity theatre; and the later award granted a director a stipend and the opportunity to direct a one-act play at an Equity theatre house. Our goals for this program are to: connect BFD directors with the greater Metro Detroit professional theatrical community, support the education of female directors, connect BFD directors with other female directors working in the community, remove challenges for BFD directors and professional theaters associated with the cost of education, travel, and artist salaries. While we are still in our pilot year – we’re excited to see how this program will affect hiring and visibility of female-identifying directors in Michigan.

Another Southeastern Michigan theatre company looking to create opportunities for marginalized communities is Black and Brown Theatre (BandB). BandB was founded in the summer of 2016 to address the inequity of casting in Michigan theatre. Like many other regions, white artists dominate Michigan theatre, and when considering casting, white is synonymous with neutral. Despite the Detroit area’s diverse population, oftentimes actors of color are only considered in casting when the script breakdown specifically calls for a certain race. Since their founding, BandB has worked to interrupt this narrative by presenting staged readings, showcases, productions, outreach, and education for and with communities of color – each action driving BandB towards the goal of becoming extinct in the next five to ten years. One valuable act of BandB is a humble Google Drive of headshots and resumes of actors of color, that casting directors can ask for access to. Currently, the database is viewable by 64 directors and has the information for 84 actors of color. This simple task has completely negated any claim of, I don’t know any actors of color, I can’t find anyone for this role, etc., and generated access for actors and casting directors to each other.

I’m excited that BFD and BandB are challenging narratives around who is in the room doing the work, that there are more companies in our region asking questions about access and equity, and that theatres and artists are using the resources that companies like BoxFest Detroit and Black and Brown Theatre provide. I hope that as all of us connect with each other we can be a force to afflict those comfortable in the white narrative, and comfort those looking to see themselves in the texts we present.”

 

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Nyjae Maria in “Valerie: A Cosplay Monologue” written by Asher Wyndham, directed by Amanda Grace Ewing. Photo courtesy of Kelly Rossi. (BoxFest Detroit 2017)

 

In September I met A Host of People – a company of performers led by Jake Hooker and Sherrine Azab, two truly lovely and creative individuals. Jake, Sherrine, and I performed together at Detroit Contemporary’s Performance Lab, for the Thelma and Louise themed night. I was Louise. Sherrine was Thelma. Jake was in charge. It was great fun, and a lesson for all of us in making work quickly.

I had such a great time getting to know them, so I was honoured and excited when they asked me to Stage Manage and Dramaturg their first full Detroit project, Life Is Happening to Us Again. Over the past few months, we have moved from the material generating stage to rehearsals, a challenging process because it means I’m starting to learn all of the cues for this show – there are a lot of sound/video/light cues, not to mention a ton of blocking notes that need to be taken. It’s energising working on a project like this, something with so many technological balls in the air, not to mention a cast of five and a full production team. It’s busy, but it never takes more than five minutes to fill the room with laughter.

This performance, Life Is Happening to Us Again, is totally immersive. Upon entering the Play House, the performance has begun, providing a meeting place for technology, nature, and us – a host of people. The space is inhabited by two separate couples, separated by time, desperately trying to reach each other through devices, screens, dances, and sites. You will meet the two couples, a bear, a rhoomba, and a snazzy pizza delivery person among others.

I’ll try not to give it away too much, but I have a favourite moment in the show, a part I think really captures the whimsical way A Host of People pose questions.

One character is feeling sad, or maybe she’s feeling uncomfortable, and her partner asks “are you okay?” A moment that could be answered with a clear yes/no is instead answered with a question: “wouldn’t it be nice if there was a sympathy ghost that followed you around all the time…” Open the door to magic. A fantastic solution to a simple problem. In the same vein that Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat, or Twitter offer us a way to connect with each other, technology is a fantastic solution to a problem of nature. The show reveals the “impossibility” of modern connectivity to nature through technology.

Life Is Happening to Us Again
April 10 – 26th
Play House, 12657 Moran St., Detroit, MI

From A Host of People’s website:
This original, ensemble created work explores the competing, complimentary, maybe even symbiotic relationship between nature and technology. In Life Is Happening To Us Again two couples share an apartment across time, lengthening the distances—and deepening the fathoms—they must travel to simply connect.  Relating through devices, screens, and sites the performers find themselves becoming possibly impossibly one with nature.

With selections of the text created by poet Heather Christle, this new devised play departs from the pedestrian rhythm of our day-to-day domesticated lives taking the characters and audience into a swirling new reality filled with poetry, video, dance, and curiosities, all of which leads to an inquiry into what our individual and collective time on Earth can and should be.  With drinks and snacks, naturally.

Produced by the experimental performance company theRUMPUSroom

By: Anton Chekov, Amanda Ewing, Chantel Gaidica
Directed by Chantel Gaidica with Dramaturg Amanda Ewing

We endeavor to interpret and explore gender relationships in the workplace and home by using Anton Chekov’s The Three Sisters. Through engaging the hopelessness and enduring suffering of Chekov’s work we will place the themes of The Three Sisters in conversation with the disenfranchisement of Detroit in order to access a purely Detroit aesthetic. Through multi-medium acts our company, theRUMPUSroom, focuses on experimental performance rooted in text and ornamented by other performance elements.

Don’t be fooled though – this is a comedic drama.

The work of Chekov has an inherent humor to it. This play is a jumping off point for us to use a classic text in conversation with other thematic focuses. We play with performance lecture, movement, Motown, traditional text, and verbatim theatre.

This play is broken into four separate performative moments; one piece for each of the sisters and a final piece, which connects their stories through the perspective of their joint antagonist, Natasha (who is an amalgamation of the negative qualities of each of the women). Focusing on each sister’s through-line, and the intertwining effort of antagonist Natasha, we will emphasize the fractured moments of Chekov’s play through media, source material, and choreographic moments.

Olga, the eldest sister is a teacher. Her piece combines interviews with teachers and students in Detroit Public Schools projected onto a screen with Chekov’s original text about teaching, labor, and struggle.

Masha is the middle child. Already married, Masha is in a loveless marriage, and already knows that she will never have her dreams. This primarily movement based piece layers classic Motown hits with Chekov’s text. (An excerpt from a recent workshop of the piece is included.)

Irina has just entered the workforce as the youngest child in the family. Irina’s performance lecture, entitled “Dear Diary, a performance lecture by Irina Prozorov, the world’s leading expert in despair.”

Here are some videos from our recent workshop, hosted by Matrix Theatre Company:

Since High School I have been intrigued by a newer role to the theatre making process: dramaturgy. Perhaps I will explore in a later post my philosophy of dramaturgy (although it is constantly evolving), but for now check out this link to get a very broad understanding of the many roles a dramaturg can play. I have served as a dramaturg in school, and again as part of my capstone project for my apprenticeship at TPT – these projects excited me and have inspired me academically, artistically, and have pushed me as a critical thinker. So I am very excited to announce that I this season I am serving as a dramaturg on three very exciting projects!

Prozorov’s SisterstheRUMPUSroom Look for the workshop performance in April and a full production in August. The April production will be at Matrix Theatre Company in Mexicantown, they have graciously offered us the space to rehearse and build this piece. Without them we would be in my basement. This reimagining of Chekov’s “Three Sisters” creates a conversation about disenfranchisement in the play and in our community in order to access a purely Detroit aesthetic. This work will operate at the intersection between aesthetics and politics to create a socially alert performance piece, both of the now and the past. Highlighting music and moments that have put Detroit at the front of media attention, both good and bad. I am serving as a co-creator on this project, writing and devising with our incredibly talented cast and my partner, Chantel – but I am also dramaturging this production. (I am also working on essays in reaction to the work and questions we are encountering about working and devising the city.)

Life is Happening to Us AgainA Host of People Also coming up in April! This one is rehearsing at Detroit Contemporary, but we’ll be moving this to the Play House for performances. This piece was originally performed in New York and is being expanded and given new life here in Detroit. The performance is about relationships. Between people, nature, technology, pizza, bears… I am excited to be a part of this team, working alongside Jake and Sherrine (founders/directors/creators of this project). I joined them briefly as an actor last year, and am enjoying working with them as part of the collaborative and creative team behind this truly intelligent project.

The Red King’s DreamTipping Point Theatre This show opens the last weekend in May and plays through June at Tipping Point Theatre in Northville. I will be joining my Rumpus Room partner, Chantel, to team up as again as director/dramaturg. This show blurs the line between reality and surreality, taking you through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole as we play with themes of “Alice in Wonderland” and discover the complexities of seeking knowledge through love. Currently we are in the design process – rehearsals start in May. This will be my second show dramaturging at TPT – the first was I Hate Hamlet in the 2012-2013 Season.

I cannot wait to share more about these creative processes with you!

A