Detroit Mercy Theatre Company will present a devised theater piece Feb. 1-3 at The Marlene Boll Theatre inside the Boll Family YMCA.
The project, American Privilege, was made possible in part by a $15,000 grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs as part of its Project Support Program.
“Detroit Mercy Theatre Company is excited to receive this grant because it opens up avenues for the project that might not have otherwise been explored,” said Damian Torres-Botello, Detroit Mercy Theatre Company’s audience development and outreach coordinator. “The grant also gives us a sense of affirmation our project has the potential to speak to audiences while adding to the formation of our students.”
There is no set definition for devised theater, but it is often described as a method of theater-making in which the script or performance originates from collaborative work by a performing ensemble.
American Privilege was conceived and will be directed by Torres-Botello, who is a member of the Jesuit order. The devised project was developed through collaboration with Detroit Mercy theatre students and as a response to the current climate in America around prejudice, discrimination and antagonism of persons with diverse identities.
“Devised theater is very organic and collaborative,” said Torres-Botello, who has worked on several devised theater projects before coming to Detroit Mercy. “In my experience, a group of performers, artists, activists and theater makers gather together and determine how we should respond to a particular issue or topic that we’re all interested in or is prevalent in society. Then we dialogue, research, interview, collaborate and figure out how we can physically embody the topic and create a performance.”
The topic for American Privilege came from a devised theater workshop Torres-Botello ran in the spring. Detroit Mercy Theatre Company’s rehearsal space was canvased with easel paper labeled with different topics such as racism, women’s rights and immigration. Workshop participants were encouraged to write words or phrases they associated with each topic.
Torres-Botello said one theme seemed to connect all the different concerns, and that was privilege.
“The societal issues – racism, sexual orientation, mental illness, etc. – have been co-opted by society and used to oppress or bully people. Most of these issues have hurt communities in the history of our country,” Torres-Botello said. “In response, citizens have resisted against these oppressions, finding empowering ways to overcome injustice, either collectively or individually.”
In conceiving American Privilege, Torres-Botello wanted to connect the experiences of the students with our society.
“Privilege and empowerment not only connect many of our country’s struggles, but so too does our desire to articulate and navigate where we stand and who we stand with,” Torres-Botello said. “The journey of students comprehending their place, involvement, solidarity, advocacy, within racism, ageism, sexism and so on, mirrors the American tension of recognizing our own privilege and navigating a response to what we have discovered within ourselves.”
The workshop not only helped Torres-Botello determine a topic, but it also got the performers excited about participating in a devised theater piece.
“I was nervous if students would be interested in doing something like this,” Torres-Botello said. “At the end of the workshop, there was great feedback about how, ‘They’ve never done something like that before,’ and their appreciation for the experience. One student made a comment that the workshop made them feel like they were a real theater company. So, that was great and a relief.”
Torres-Botello has recruited students and professors from the University to chip in on the project. A creative writing class worked on scenes and monologues, and he’s encouraged students who are not trained actors to participate.
“The potential for a conglomerate of people to be a part of this project is really exciting,” Torres-Botello said. “There is no experience needed to do devised theater. In fact, there are advantages to having people who are not trained in theater just as there are advantages to having full-on trained performers. If you are alive and breathing, then anyone can bring a lot to devised theater.”
American Privilege opens on Friday, Feb. 1 at 7:30 p.m. with a cast party for patrons, friends and supporters to celebrate opening night after the performance. Tickets are already sold out for Saturday, Feb. 2. After the final performance at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 3, faculty and scholars from Women and Gender Studies and Clinical Psychology – along with the director and cast – will conduct a forum with the audience, discussing privilege and its systemic effects.
Due to high demand, American Privilege has an added performance on Thursday, January 31 at 7:30 p.m.
All performances at The Marlene Boll Theatre inside the Boll Family YMCA.
Tickets for American Privilege are available at www.DetroitMercyArts.com.
For more information on the Detroit Mercy Theatre Company visit www.TheTheatreCo.com.