Participate, as defined by Merriam Webster, means “1: to possess some of the attributes of a person, thing, or quality; 2 a: to take part b: to have a part or share in something.” This word struck me a while back as a way to explain why theatre is what I do professionally and why I find myself so drawn to directing. Theatre gives us an opportunity to not only entertain, but to “have a part or share in” stories in which artist and audience might each find truth. We participate in the lives of a community when we create theatre and share stories with which they are able to relate.
Although I have always loved to act, even as a young girl I would say I wanted to be an actress when I grew up, it was not until college that I realized theatre is something I need to be doing with my life.
In college, I had the opportunity to travel to the Philippines and Kenya for a documentary project on slums and was struck by the stories we heard. I realized that without making these voices heard, there is no hope for change. Upon my return, I discovered Augusto Boal and his Theatre of the Oppressed. The idea that change can happen if you give people an outlet and a venue for expression and communication began to shape the work I did in college and the plays I have chosen to direct with Yellow Rose Productions since then.
The theatre work I did in my final two years of college was centered on the belief that theatre can open doors to much needed discussion, particularly about issues and stories that my small, private Christian school had a tendency to ignore or deny. My friends and peers dealt with issues of sexuality and physical image so I turned to scripts like The Laramie Project and Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead to raise awareness and open discussion amongst the campus community. Although I was forbidden from directing Dog Sees God on campus, after countless meetings and proposals I was permitted to do a staged reading and post-show discussion of The Laramie Project. For my senior directing project I chose Machinal, by Sophie Treadwell, to address some of the difficult choices we have to make as females, as individuals, as members of families, and as members of society.
My experiences in college broadened my appreciation for theatre from being just entertainment to seeing theatre as a chance for artists to live in a real space with an audience. Theatre can give artists a way to validate the everyday struggles, joys, worries and triumphs of the people in the audience and gives the audience a chance to process and reflect on their own lives through the work of the artist. With Yellow Rose Productions, this has become a major focus in our work. We strive to do theatre that challenges us and allows us, through our work and art, to participate in the lives of our community.