With only 16 days until the world premiere of their original work, the devising team (and cast!) of Lines have been hard at work in the rehearsal room at Spectrum Theater. Devising team member, Calin Skidmore (last seen on Actors’ Stage in The Little Dog Laughed), took a moment to give us an update on the the background of the work and what term “ethnography” means:
Sometimes called “theater of testimony,” this theatrical genre uses only actual words of real people, culled from personal interviews to create the play’s narrative. This style has been popularized in recent years in the work of Anna Deveare Smith, most recently with her off-Broadway hit Let Me Down Easy.
Actors’ Theatre has produced ethnographic works twice before, first with The Exonerated and then with Stephanie Sandberg’s world premiere work 3 years ago- Seven Passages. Lines has followed a similar devising process as did Seven Passages, with Dr. Sandberg and her team conducting approximately 150 personal interviews over the past two years. The interviews were designed to create a broad sample of voices from throughout the West Michigan area, with interviewees all responding to questions regarding their understanding and perceptions of how their own racial identity has shaped their life experiences in the greater Grand Rapids area.
On the story behind the title:
The script is structured by using various metaphors of lines to describe the experience of race. The actual physical lines and boundaries we draw around our communities, the theoretical or perceived lines that divide people, as well as the ideas of “staying within the lines,” “breaking the lines,” “how we learn the lines” etc. Ideas, topics and issues addressed in the script include the housing situation, (can people really choose to live wherever they want in Grand Rapids?) the education system (experiences in public, private, and charter schools and how the community understands these), the justice system, how race issues affect the broad West Michigan religious community, the various ideas and understandings surrounding “white privilege” and the various reactions to the economic redevelopment along Wealthy Street.
Voices represented in the script include a wide range of racial, economic and age demographics from throughout Grand Rapids, from teachers and educators to police officers, contractors, pastors and other members of the community. Prominent individuals from the area whose voices will be heard include (among many others) Rev. David May (founder of the Institutes for Healing Racism), real estate developer Guy Bazzani, and Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell, as well as personal stories from the cast and devising team.
Stay tuned for more on the cast, including bios, and the development process of Lines: The Lived Experience of Race in the days to come!