The WSU Visual and Performing Arts Department’s play “War Children” is more than an endeavor into the raw and emotional topic of child soldiering—it is also an endeavor into an innovative type of theater.
Devised theater is a theatrical form in which the story and script are improvised rather than predetermined—the actors and the cast members essentially build the play from the ground up.
“Devised theater is a viable and vital part of theater development,” Assistant Professor of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) Sam O’Connell said. “It embodies the collaboration of theater.”
O’Connell should know—it was his Devised Theatre course in the fall 2012 semester that laid the groundwork for the play that debuted on campus Thursday, April 18 and runs through Sunday, April 21. The course set off with only a theme to govern them: child soldiers, which VPA Department chair Adam Zahler selected following former child soldier Emmanuel Jal’s visit to campus in 2011.
WSU junior Edikan Brown recalled what the class was like in its early stages. “There were no wrong answers,” she said. “I felt like we were building Frankenstein, in a way.”
Since devised theater gives most of the creative license to the actors and cast members, no script came out of the course. A semester’s worth of research into devised theater and child soldiers produced a skeleton of what the play would become.
“It’s like writing a paper,” explained junior Denise Laroche, who was also in O’Connell’s course. “The students in the class came up with the outline, and the actors flushed out the paragraphs.”
In addition to developing the outline for the play, Laroche and Brown also took part in the rehearsal process. Both will be performing this weekend.
Laroche recalled the script she was handed on the first day of rehearsal: a single sheet of paper with nine scenes—moments that were only as specific as their titles.
“In the very early stages, all we were trying to do was think and act like children,” she said. “This play stage in the rehearsal process made it all the more crushing when we had to become child soldiers.”
A dynamic play has come about as a result of this rehearsal process. Some of the scenes are scripted and choreographed, and some are strictly improvisational. In one scene, a forgiveness ceremony is acted out using contact improvisation—a type of dance in which one partner reacts to the other partner’s movements.
“It is really exciting to see how the actors are being pushed by this play,” O’Connell said. “Everyone is bringing their best effort to the show.”
Performances are April 18, 19, and 20 at 8 p.m. and April 21 at 2 p.m. in the Fuller Theater in the Helen G. Shaughnessy Administration Building. Tickets are $14 for general admission, $10 for senior citizens, and $7 for students.
Thursday’s performance was followed by a discussion with Jesse Eaves, senior policy advisor for child protection at World Vision. A discussion with Grace Akallo, a former child soldier and Worcester resident, follows Saturday’s performance.
LaRoche presented Akallo a check for $850, which was raised by the theatre students, after the April 20 performance.
Joe Gullekson ’13 is an English major at WSU.
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