On Stage

Diversity in Demand

A reimagined season at WWU

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WHAT: how to clean your room (and remember all your trauma)
WHEN: 7:30pm Fri.-Sat., Oct. 23-24 and 30-31
WHERE: Via YouTube
COST: Free

WHAT: New Works Reading Series
WHEN: 7:30pm Thurs.-Fri., Nov. 5-6, 12-13, 19-20, Dec. 3-4
WHERE: Via YouTube
COST: Free
INFO: http://www.cfpa.wwu.edu

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Even before the pandemic shuttered universities and theaters across the country last spring, Western Washington University’s College of Fine and Performing Arts had made a commitment to produce WWU Theatre alum j. chavez’s play how to clean your room (and remember all your trauma).

That news thrilled senior instructor and playwright Kamarie Chapman, who’s made it her mission to bring to light a diversity of voices both onstage and off in the decade she’s been teaching at WWU. The story about a non-binary character reflecting on their relationships with the people around them while attempting to tidy up their life resonated, and she was elated that the work by chavez, the National Undergraduate Playwriting winner of the Kennedy Center’s 2018 American College Theatre Festival, would kick off WWU’s fall lineup of performances.

“J. chavez is an accomplished performer, scholar and writer, and this gorgeous piece is all about the loss of friendship,” Chapman says. “It’s also a play by a LatinX, trans writer and requires attention to casting diverse humans to fill the roles. And puppets!”

At 7:30pm Oct. 23-24 and 30-31, how to clean your room (and remember all your trauma) will be staged at the university’s DUG Theatre as previously planned, but audience members will be watching the action unfold from the safety of their own screening devices. Chapman says the department decided to go entirely online for the season, realizing live performances likely wouldn’t be possible for some time to come.

Of course, like many things COVID-related, the transition wasn’t a seamless one. Associate professor Evan Mueller, who is directing how to clean your room, says the theatre department has worked carefully with the university to implement stringent health and safety measures for the cast and crew, including mandatory testing procedures, sanitation protocols, limitations on numbers of people working in a physical space, air monitoring and filtration, distancing and masking.

“Many, probably most, of the collaborative aspects of theater that would typically happen in person have happened online for this project, and given the tools of technology, we’ve found a lot of ways to make this collaboration successful,” Mueller says, pointing to simplified design and reimagined physical distancing and stage business (such as the handling of props).

“Perhaps not every theatrical piece could be achieved with these limitations, but this particular play is well-suited to this moment in time,” he notes. “The characters are embodied by only four actors, and not only do the themes of the play treat the ‘distance between people,’ but the device of using puppets to explore memory also allows our actors an unusual outlet of expression. Although the actors’ faces may be masked during performance, the puppets are enormously expressive and allow the profound emotional life, the joy and pain of these characters, to be experienced by our audiences as they watch the live performance recorded on multiple cameras on our streaming platform.”

Chapman says the decision to transition the 2020 season online has its perks, noting the format actually allowed for even more collaboration between students and professionals throughout the country and beyond. For example, as part of a New Works Reading Series she’s creating with fellow instructor Mark Kuntz starting in early November, one of the plays, The Medea Complex, was written by Patricia Crespin in New Mexico, is being directed by Diego Alvarez Robledo in Mexico City, and features a dramaturg from WWU.

This is significant, Chapman says, because the department is creating a platform for voices in the theatre community that are often left out because they don’t have the support. The four full-length plays comprising the new series—including her own, 27 Ways to Say Goodbye—represent a variety of voices, while following a common theme of women breaking through adversity. They were all inspired by real experiences, and Chapman hopes people tune in to see the new works come to life.

She also wants community members to be aware that if they want to see more diversity represented in future performances at Western Washington University, they need to show up and support the works—even if they’re not in the same room.

“If you believe that everyone deserves a place on the stage, then log in to that Zoom or YouTube performance and watch,” Chapman says. “Send your friends invites. Send emails of support to the department, and take the time to learn. Hearing stories from cultures that may not be your own may be one of the greatest tools we have to build empathy. If we can listen and be present, we can learn from one another. I’m in my tenth year of teaching here at WWU and have dreamed about something like this since I started. I assure you, it’s special.”

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