Suffolk PAO set to perform Identity Crisis

Courtesy of Jorge Bernal

Courtesy of Jorge Bernal

Sharyn Gladstone

The Performing Arts Office will hold its 15th annual spring Pioneer Series production with “Identity Crisis” hitting stages Feb. 18-20 at 7:30 p.m. in the C. Walsh Theatre. The Series — which began back in 2002 with the “Vagina Monologues” — has alternated each year between a musical and non-musical production to satisfy the varied interests of their audiences. Past productions include “Songs for a New World,” “Bare – A pop opera,” “Shakespeare in Hollywood” and “Spring Awakening.”

With the Pioneer Series, Associate Director Kathy Maloney indicates of PAO that the organization, “Aim[s] to produce shows that offer the office and the students and opportunity to work on a new, challenging and provocative piece of theatre.” She continued, “Sometimes that means learning about physical comedy, puppetry or history, and sometimes it means working on issues such as the death penalty or hate crimes. The goal is for the production to allow all involved to have a powerful, meaningful experience throughout their rehearsal process and through the show.”

The description of “Crisis” says it is a “devised piece that will focus on the important topics of race, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexuality.” The showrunners hope to bring some elements of humor into this important look at relevant issues of our culture and society that should be openly discussed.

PAO’s motivation to present a performance regarding these issues stemmed from the Black Lives Matter movement that has been unfolding across the United States.

“It was clear that we were in the midst of an intense national conversation about race and identity,” said PAO Director Kristin Baker. “We thought to have the platform of the Pioneer Performance Series and not use it to try and further this dialogue on our campus would be both a missed opportunity and a dereliction of duty.”

Dawn Simmons, the director of the play, felt that students who are part of the production will be given the opportunity “to ask the hard questions of each other that are floating out there on the internet.” Simmons revealed that “during this process, the actors got to explore stereotypes and challenge them. They get to embrace their identity in a very public way and allow others to do the same.”

During the pre-production of the show, students were asked questions that “we [can] answer for ourselves, [but] we haven’t answered them for the audience,” says Simmons. “We hope that what we present can be used as a tool to start a dialogue that leads somewhere. That people who see the show will listen to each other in the same spirit of learning and community that we were able to,” she concluded.

Baker, who reached out to Simmons early in the show’s process, feels Simmons “has [an] amazing ability to connect with students. She is the absolute best person to lead this process with the determined, honest and brave group of student performers we have assembled. This is a production unlike any we have done before, but this, without a doubt, is the time and the team to take it on, and I can’t wait to show it to people.”

When it came to finding the right play to produce, Baker felt that regardless of the plethora of plays available regarding identity and race there was no play that “felt quite right for Suffolk. They were set in the past, or in another part of the country they didn’t quite speak to us, for us, or about us,” Baker explained. “So, we decided to create our own. The process is called ‘devised theater,’ which means the cast generates all the material in the play together, using improvisation and writing exercises in the rehearsal room, mining their own experiences and imaginations to create a show from nothing.”

The company members hope this unique method translates into a discussion within the Suffolk community.

“When we can, we also try to include opportunities for the community to partake in the process. When possible we like to include faculty and staff to offer the students a chance to interact with and collaborate with their faculty and staff and former students on a very different and personal level,” said Maloney.

She also revealed PAO will be hosting an informal “talk back” session after the Thursday night (Feb. 18) performance.

“[We want] the audience [to be] able to hear from the cast and crew about the process of developing and producing a show, as well as their experiences as actors and students dealing with all the various issues and themes brought up in this play.”

Regarding what message the production is trying to send the audience, Simmons divulged. That “at the end of the day for all of our differences, we should also remember that we’re struggling with the same things as well. And that just about everyone can agree that pizza is a great equalizer.”

Tickets can be picked up in Donahue 409 for free.