Playwright-in-residence's production set to start this week after long delay
Ricardo Patino, The Oklahoma Daily
Student actors will premiere a suburban Chicago teen’s struggle to emigrate her online pen pal from war-stricken Uganda in this year’s playwright-in-residence production Wednesday in the OU Lab Theatre.
The School of Drama was presented with Laura Jacqmin’s original play, “And When We Awoke There Was Light and Light” two years ago after its panel of readers decided to name her the Faith Broome Playwright-in-Residence, director Judith Pender said. Due to an off-Broadway opportunity for Jacqmin in spring 2011, the play’s postponement to this fall actually provided timely perspective to OU’s production, Pender said.
That perspective was captured through the documentary, “Invisible Children.” The documentary detailing Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army was a research tool along with many articles and the graphic novel, “The Unknown Soldier” for the play as the male lead, David, is a 15-year-old member.
“I looked up different stories about the invisible children,” drama junior Michael Turrentine, who plays David, said. “Basically, I came up with different back stories of different children who were in the same situation.”
David’s situation is unique, however, because 17-year-old Katie from Evanston, Ill. befriends him through the Internet. Ambitiously intelligent, Katie decides to bring David to the United States and to use the undertaking as an extra “pad in her Harvard application packet,” Pender said. Consequently, Katie deals with the severity of David’s LRA membership and her own moral involvement, Pender said.
“Is she doing it because she sincerely wants to help him, or is she doing it because she thinks it’ll give her an edge for admission?” Pender said. “And the answer is kind of both.”
As playwright-in-residence, Jacqmin solicited advice from students to bring her characters to life for the first time, Turrentine said.
“It was a chance for everyone to be as creative as possible and dig from the bottom and go up instead of referencing other productions,” Turrentine said.
For this debut production, Jacqmin and Pender collaborated throughout rehearsal, which began Oct. 8, Pender said. Few things changed from Jacqmin’s original text but creative leeway was given to the 16-student cast including Gabrielle Reyes, Pender said.
“Yes, [Jacqmin has] prescribed these words for us, and Dr. Pender wants us to go a certain way, but at the same time she lets us use our creativity and our youth that we still know of to create these youthful characters,” Reyes, a freshman of the drama program, said.
Reyes said embodying the role of Katie has been a learning experience both in and out of the classroom. The production process has been one of personal and technical growth on the stage, Reyes said.
[Jacqmin] has been very specific on certain things, but then I’ve been able to create Katie on my own,” Reyes said.
Without a previous production as a reference, Pender experienced new technicalities as well such as staging a skydiving scene and making snow, she said. Pender employed an ensemble cast that acts as engaged characters and “scenic machinery,” she said.
“It’s using the magic of theater to help tell the story, and the audience will play a big role because they have to use their imagination, Pender said. “It’s not literal representation of the environment — it’s suggestion.”
Lighting is the primary scenic element,” Pender said. “Lighting defines the spaces and that’s fitting considering ‘light’ is in the title twice.”
“And When We Awoke There Was Light and Light” is the fifth playwright-in-residence production at OU, Pender said. The Faith Broome program, sponsored by Mo and Richard Anderson, also provided Jacqmin a monetary reward and the opportunity to teach the playwriting course this semester, Pender said.
“She’s really on the cutting edge of what’s going on right now,” Pender said. “She’s going to be making a significant contribution to American dramatic literature.”