Ever walk by someone sitting on the sidewalk surrounded by what looks like their possessions? What about someone in a wheelchair, trying to navigate a crowded corridor? An elderly person trying to reach something on the top shelf of a grocery store?
This past semester, Columbus State University theater professor Becky Becker and history and geography professor Amanda Rees’ classes have been working together — and independently — on an oral history performance project.
Becker’s acting class has gone around town, talking to the homeless, those with AIDS/HIV, residents of nursing homes, people confined to wheelchairs and those in the gay/lesbian/transgendered community.
“People whose life experiences are invisible to most of us,” Becker said. “We just don’t pay attention.”
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Rees’ class has been focused on geography, mostly the MidTown area.
“It’s quite a long process,” Becker said. “We first sit down and talk about what we wanted to explore and who to interview. Then the students have to transcribe the interviews and create the monologues.”
The finished product can be seen Saturday at the CSU Theater of the Park in the Studio Theatre.
“We really found out what a diverse community Columbus is,” Becker said.
What the students learned
“We found out that people will be able to relate to these topics all over the globe,” said senior theater major Gwendolyn Labod, who also took part in Becker’s oral history performances of Westville and Bibb City.
Jackie Kappes, a sophomore theater major, has also participated in the other two performances.
“All the issues connect,” Kappes said. “Besides the oral histories, we had to write our own personal monologues.”
Meg Dickens, a sophomore theater major, said the stereotypes she had in her mind were dispelled the more people she interviewed. “I learned how we can be so wrong,” Dickens said.
Some of Becker’s students had to seek out people to interview. Others got suggestions from Becker. But once the students started, the original people interviewed recommended others.
Stephen Smith, a sophomore theater major, said he had to wait for one person getting off his late-night restaurant shift one very cold evening. But it was worth the wait in the cold, he said.
“It was a good experience in self-discipline,” Smith said.
The history and geography students brought a different perspective to the project than the purely creative students.
“It’s been challenging,” said senior Will Robinson. “We come from two different points of view.”
Senior Tammie Anderson said the history and geography students had specific questions to ask the people they interviewed.
Rees explained that the geography her students covered were the neighborhoods just north and just south of Macon Road.
These students are creating seven panels explaining the project with photographs and text.
Rees said the project seemed to rejuvenate her students and thought the whole process was a positive one.
She did admit it was a little more complicated than she bargained it would be.
“It was like an independent study,” Rees said. “They had to look at the geography and the cultural landscape.”
She called the MidTown area, “the heart of the city.”
“It’s a part of town that is very diverse and very complex. For economic development, that’s very attractive,” Rees said.
“This is not a traditional play,” Meghan Chetfield, a junior theater major said. “We bring real people to the stage.”
And doing this performance becomes more than just a performance, Stephanie Nimmo, a senior theater major said.
“Some of these people we interviewed have become ‘celebrities’ and are so excited to tell their stories,” Nimmo said. “After all, we all have a story to tell. These people deserve our respect. We’ve given them a gift.”
The next project?
Students have many ideas for their next projects.
Kelly Pennell, a sophomore theater student, is hoping to tackle the issues of either politics or religion.
Several others wanted to discuss interracial relationships.
Smith wants to do one on international relations — U.S, vs. the world.
Upon hearing their ideas, Becker said she needed a rest first.