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4 scholars gather in 1 classroom for 8 hours in an effort to discover: What is the role of the undergraduate liberal arts institution in American society, now?
This piece was inspired by Gob Squad's Work*, a performance that took place from 9AM - 5PM, Monday - Friday in an office building. Work successfully reflected the experience of an office job. As I entered my final year as a student in an undergraduate institution, it seemed to be the right time to reflect upon the experience of the university in a piece called School. So, I formed the guiding question: What is the role of higher education in American society?
* Read more about Gob Squad's Work here
Read full Project Description here
Read full Literature Review here
Before I could begin making the project itself I had to conduct extensive research in two major areas: the American university and devised theatre. I spent 6 months researching these topics with the guidance of my advisor, Zachary Dorsey. While I could not possibly review all available research in either of these fields with the time I had, I was able to cover enough ground to contextualize these topics. I was also able to use the information I gained to make decisions on what our devised piece should be about and how we should make it. For the American university, I found that there were 4 major theories on what the primary role of the university in society is: to develop the individual for the individual’s sake; to act as a mechanism for class ascension; to perform the duties of a business with the product being the degree; and to prepare scholars to be citizens who would actively help strengthen the democracy. For devised theatre I focused on companies and techniques related to our product and process which were: Gob Squad, The Tectonic Theatre, Viewpoints, and Forced Entertainment.
As soon as my senior year began I teamed up with my stage manager, Cailin Lindsay and cast an ensemble that consisted of 4 outstanding individuals (Chris Sanderson, Rebecca Klein, Zak Gordon, and Aubrey Siebels) and we set out on a 5 month long rehearsal process. The first semester (3 months) of our process I devoted almost entirely to mental and physical training. I divided our content up into 5 modules: Our Devising Process, Education & the Scholar, The Meritocracy, Quantification of Education, and America and the University. For each subject I assigned them 2-5 articles/excerpts to read and they would be expected to come in with a relevant Moment to share. Our devising method was based off of the Tectonic Theatre Project's Moment work*; creating "Moment"s of original content individually, and then putting them together to build a piece. I asked them to bring in a Moment each rehearsal so that we were constantly translating these intellectual concepts into the physical realm and building up content we could later use in our piece. In addition, I led a weekly open movement workshop, based off of Viewpoint exercises and techniques, to help my ensemble gain range and fall into sync with one another
*Learn more about the Tectonic Theatre Project's process here .
Once their training was complete we began to create more content for the piece itself. We quickly realized it was important to us that this piece be durational. So, realizing that the Tectonic Theatre Project's Moment work would no longer serve us as a method of creation, we turned to Forced Entertainment* for guidance. We researched the company and their practice of performing long-form improvisational games. Then, we came up with our own games that aligned with the content of our piece. After settling on 3 games, we practiced them, edited them, and finally we were ready to go to School.
*Learn more about Forced Entertainment's process here
Pictures by Cailin Lindsay
View Full Performance here
Read full School Script here
This performance took place from 10AM-6PM in lecture hall, Harrison 1261, at James Madison University.
There are three stations that the scholars rotate between.
balance a stack of 100 red Solo cups on one hand. If the cups fall a buzzer sounds, the round resets, and the two scholars in Station 3 switch roles.
build a parable about hard work by collaging the words from classic American texts.
scholar #1 states that they are the ideal scholar, scholar #2 asks "why?" 15 times. After 15 "why"s a buzzer sounds and all scholars rotate stations.
When the parable is complete a long buzzer sounds and we transition into Game 2.
There are three stations that the scholars rotate between.
two scholars play flip cup. The game stops when the buzzer sounds. The winner of each flip cup game teaches the other scholars their technique.
tells the audience a parable related to the subject of the meritocracy. When they have completed their parable they go make a list of the positive characteristics that this parable promoted.
builds a book that lists characteristics of the ideal democratic citizen by tearing up the research that we've used to create our piece and collaging it into a journal. When they've created a characteristic they sound a buzzer. Their characteristic is read aloud and then the scholars switch stations.
Occasionally the Bookworm Song from Sesame Street will start playing and all of the scholars will drop what they're doing and perform a fully choreographed song and dance.
When the book of characteristics is complete a long buzzer will sound and we transition into Game 3.
There are 4 stations that the scholars rotate between.
scholar stands on a table, the audio "we are the ideal democratic citizens because" plays, the scholar must read a characteristic off a stack of paper and defend it.
when a statement is read this scholar can question it by asking "why?" until they are satisfied with the answer.
when a statement is read and questioned this scholar can choose whether or not to validate it by saying "that's true." Once they validate the statement, the scholars rotate stations.
this scholar is taking the piece of paper that each statement is written on and taping them up around the room. This scholar must always be running.
Once we run out of statements, the game and School ends.
Although many aspects of our process and production were successful, the piece itself failed
because the form did not hold the content in a way that truly communicated what we intended to communicate to our audience. The structure of our show produced its own content through
exhaustive questioning which was both compelling and productive for discovering new ways in
which the scholar and the university intersect with society. However, it did not do its job of
helping us share what we had learned with our audience and starting a conversation that would
continue when our performance ended. And yet, these failures helped the ensemble and I learn more about this structure than an entirely successful piece would have because, as Tim Etchells, the artistic director of Forced Entertainment states, “any system is best understood by an investigation of its failure." This depth of learning about the structure was certainly the most fitting result because, in the end, this piece was about learning. And learning about learning. And learning how to say that you’re still learning. And we are still learning.
Read full analysis here