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Aquinas College spring play opens cast to community members to promote social change

Randy Wyatt, associate professor of theatre for Aquinas College, discusses the spring 2017 play at Aquinas, Love and Information by Caryl Churchill.
Rehearsal for Love and Information

Rehearsal for Love and Information /Brittany Devon

Come see Love & Information at Aquinas College!

April 6-8 @ 8PM

April 9 @ 2PM

Cast watching rehearsal

Cast watching rehearsal /Brittany Devon

Randy directing a scene

Randy directing a scene /Brittany Devon

Randy Wyatt has directed over 60 productions. "Love and Information" has a large cast and the casting process was opened up to community members. This play ties in to spreading the word about Aquinas’ new major, Theatre for Social Change.

Wyatt shares a brief synopsis of "Love & Information":

'Love and Information' is a very recent play by the British playwright Caryl Churchill, who is considered by many to be one of our most skilled and accomplished living playwrights. The play is actually more than 57 micro-plays, some of which are only seconds long, none of which are more than four minutes long. None of the characters recur (except for one in a sequence about struggling with depression). Each play is a tiny glimpse into a sector of our world today, and how the concepts of love and information intersect. Some characters are waiting on information, some are withholding it, some are dealing with it with people they love or want to love or used to love.”

“Taken all together, it's a theatrical collage that allows the spectator to make their own connections that resonate. I tell people that it's theatre as Facebook. It's how we take in love and information every day, one scroll at a time.”

What inspiration was behind directing this play?

“The concept is fascinating. I've been an admirer of Churchill for a long time but this is the first piece of hers I've tackled. The microplays are lines of dialogue without characters or context assigned, which allows for a universe of possibilities for each one. We as a team got to create the characters and contexts for each piece, determining comedy or drama, distributing lines between two, three or more actors for each one. It also felt like the perfect play to do as we talk about community and the vitality of theatre at Aquinas.”

How does Love and Information tie in to community as a piece?

“I wanted to find new ways to connect to the community through the opportunities this play affords. Aquinas has always been committed to community in tangible ways, as its one of the school's charisms. I wanted to give stage space to as many different types of people and walks of life as I could with this piece,” Wyatt explains.

"Love and Information" is cast in three different colored teams. The Burgundy Team, which was cast from mostly Aquinas students, is considered the core team. Each Burgundy Team member is in an average of eight pieces and rehearses five nights a week. The Green Team is a mix of students, alum, faculty and community members. The Green Team meets once or twice a week to rehearse, with each cast member showing in two or three pieces. The Silver Team comes to a total of two rehearsals and then the tech week. This is a variety of individuals, including members of the Vizions dance team.

“This system has allowed for great flexibility in allowing people who can't commit to a full rehearsal schedule to be in the show. It also has allowed for such a variety of ages, ethnicities, and belief systems to collaborate and create theatre together. The process has been daunting but incredible.”

How has the experience been with opening up this Aquinas production to community members?

“We have done this in the past, but only in small ways. The past couple of years it's been made clear to me how silo-ed academic theatre programs can be. Even the ones who say they are engaging the community are doing so only on their own terms. With Aquinas' practical focus on community alongside our participation in the Collaboration with Circle Theatre, Catholic Central HS and Catholic West HS, our program is uniquely positioned to re-envision creating theatre in a community-based method while still adhering to academic standards and vision. The Collaboration is the first model of its kind in the nation as far as I'm aware, sharing resources and creating a circle of aesthetic sustainability. It provides the possibility of high school students going to college, maintaining relationships and striking new collaborations and investing them into the community.”

How has it felt directing such a large cast?

“I've directed large cast musicals before, but this piece allows for each cast member--even if they only have one line--to be part of the creation process, and that part is exhilarating. It's also a scheduling nightmare, as you can imagine. But everyone has been so invested and focused because we all know we have something cool here.”

Aquinas is offering a new major! Elaborate on that?

“The new major, Theatre for Social Change, is a hybrid major comprised of courses primarily from Theatre and Community Leadership. Majors will be learning devising techniques (like some we used in the process for this piece) and then heading into the community to create theatre and awareness. This major just passed at AQ last semester and there's a buzz about it, as it allows students who are interested in performance and in social engagement to study courses that relate directly to them. It also gives them coursework in grant writing and intercultural communication, as well as service learning through practicums alongside real world initiatives.”

After Friday night’s performance of Love and Information on April 7, Wyatt will be giving a presentation on the details and philosophy of the new major. There will also be refreshments and a cash bar with beer and wine available.

Overall, this experience has been an exciting time for the Grand Rapids theatre community. “It's extremely gratifying to work alongside such a variety of actors and watch the sparks as they connect with each other. Grand Rapids has been at the forefront of shattering the stigma of community-based theatre. Mounting work of this complexity with this team has been a highlight of my work at AQ.”

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