On Stage

Us and Them

Fewer walls, more communication

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

When neighboring groups from the East and West show up in the same space, building a wall seems to be the best way to keep their communities separate. The tale may remind you of misbegotten edicts of the current presidential administration, but Us and Them was written in 1982. We asked Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth director Ian Bivins what drew him to the play that will be staged Feb. 23-25 at the State Street theater, and he shared a few insights.

CW: What made you realize this was a story that would benefit from being told on the BAAY stage?

IB: After the third time through the script, I started to visualize just how much story there was living in a seemingly simplistic format. At only 21 pages and with dialogue that is rapid- fire and intentionally repetitive, we dive into a world of echoes and absurdity. I started dreaming of what we could do with a minimal set and the fantastic roster of the BAAY senior age group.

CW: Was author David Campton commenting on the effects of a real wall—like the Berlin Wall—or do you think the cautionary tale is simply a metaphor?

IB: The play was written in 1982. I’d define that as in the midst of the Cold War, when it was easier to rely on mutually assured destruction than it was to create productive dialogue between superpowers. Let’s presume he was making a direct commentary on a barrier that stood for 10,315 days, in many cases dividing families as well as perceived ideologies. I’d say he got to the metaphorical root of what was a very real wall. That metaphor is still equally relevant in today’s discussion of division versus dialogue.

CW: You’re using the Margolis Method for this play. What are the basics?

IB: It’s is a dynamic approach to theatre making that puts the actor at the center of the creative process. It seeks to take the mystery out of acting by offering tangible, practicable exercises that allow the actor to build and hone their skills as a true craftsperson.

CW: How are your young performers handing the timely material?

IB: I find they grasp the parallels between this subject matter and current events. However, they don’t approach it in a heavy-handed way I would expect to see from adults without lots of direction. They understand that you can approach a touchy subject, yet still maintain enough distance to reveal the metaphors of the situation.

CW: Do you consider yourself to be pro-wall or anti-wall?

IB: Once I built a fence to keep trash from being blown or thrown into my yard. But that didn’t stop the fact that I can still wave to my neighbors. When I’ve built walls between other people and myself, I can’t say I’ve ever reaped any benefit. A lack of compassion and communication has been the only thing to grow. So yeah, I’m not so into walls.

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