We Might Fall Apart
University of Iowa David Thayer Theatre — Thursday-Saturday, July 12-14 at 8 p.m.
There is a theory that by looking into someone’s eyes for four minutes even perfect strangers can empathize with each other, listening, acknowledging and communicating more openly.
As the first workshop of the inaugural Summer Partnership in the Arts in the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts, We Might Fall Apart is an ensemble-driven, newly devised work that asks audience members and its creative team of 12 actors, as well as designers, assistant directors, a playwright, a stage manager and a dramaturg to communicate, listen and learn from each other’s stories.
The performance events will run this Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening, July 12, 13 and 14 at 8 p.m. A talkback will follow the July 13 performance. The performances are free; no ticket is required.
Visiting theatre director Vanessa Stalling began by asking her actors to try the “empathy experiment” of looking at each other on their first day together. This led to the actors sharing their own stories.
“We are in a moment right now where people are finding it hard to listen to others and hard to be heard,” Stalling said. She believes that “every artist should be able to express an idea or concern about the current world and be heard.”
Stalling’s recent work has focused a lot on the “evolutionary neurology to be kind.” We discussed her production of Flight 232 at the House Theatre of Chicago about the airplane crash in Sioux City, and how the survivors demonstrated an “inherent sense of responsibility to help people.”
“We are programmed to take care of each other,” Stalling said. We Might Fall Apart continues with this line of questioning on how we interact and connect with others.
“We started from nothing,” Jivani Rodriguez, an undergraduate major in theatre arts, explained.
Actors were asked to look at articles, poetry and songs about the social, political and personal issues they raised to prepare for their discussions and ensemble work. Emelia Asiedu, a recent MFA in Acting graduate added that, in addition to We Might Fall Apart’s playwright Courtney Meaker, the actors were “all playwrights.”
“These stories, they’re coming from us,” she said.
Stalling stressed that this is a workshop focused on the process of generating new material and not on perfecting that performance.
“Where we’ve ended up at is the ability to connect, being able to listen and have a ‘huh’ moment, to experience something new,” Stalling said.
Over the last three weeks, the team has worked to devise what William Goblirsch, another recent graduate from the MFA in Acting program, described as a “series of vignettes based on recent news and personal experiences.”
His personal experiences include growing up in a small, predominantly white town in southern Minnesota, and realizing that while “homogenization can breed ignorance” he hopes to demonstrate compassion for people who are often labelled as fearful. This calls for “not letting fear quiet us,” but being “risky, vulnerable, and as specific as possible.”
Asiedu concurred. She said this workshop encourages actors to “confront what is important to us.” As a Ghanaian studying and performing in the United States, she has been able to discuss her experiences with her fellow actors, such as learning what it means to be black in America after living in the predominantly black African nation of Ghana. She said that “telling stories that are difficult to talk about” allows the actors to step into and then out of their personal experiences: “to craft this into an artistic statement.”
Rodriguez agreed. “It’s validating to see my story being told. Everyone is willing to share their vulnerabilities.”
“Our ensemble members have been incredible collaborators, asking the difficult questions and offering thoughts or stories that have shaped the entire rehearsal process,” Molly Winstead, MFA Dramaturgy candidate, explained through an email interview. “We Might Fall Apart is constantly in flux — we have developed entire scenes that you will not see in the show because, at the end of the day, they functioned more like creative building blocks to get us to the next idea or thing that needed to be explored.”
What needs to be explored, Stalling explained, is “how we communicate with others, examine what it feels like to be divided from and to be connected to someone with a different viewpoint.” While this work demands that the ensemble ask difficult questions of themselves and others, she said that “solutions feel prescriptive, so more focus is on the expression of feeling like being without a voice, that no one is hearing you.”
Rodriguez had a warning for the audience: “We don’t have an answer for you. Just don’t sit back and watch.”
Stalling hopes that audiences will enter as “a bunch of strangers” but leave feeling “less isolated.”
“There’s a community right here in this rehearsal room,” she said.