the road weeps, the well runs dry – a community engaged theatrical event

the road weeps, the well runs dry produced by the University of South Florida School of Theatre and Dance is a landmark example of community engaged research, development, and scholarship. The final performances representing the culmination of a three-year process to produce this previously unpublished play written by Marcus Gardley, took place during the weekend of April 12-13th.  Stay tuned for a wrap-up of all the community engaged programming related to this milestone production.

This massive undertaking began when USF Theatre Professor Fanni Green was approached by a former classmate of hers, Lisa Rothe of the Lark Play Development Center, a “laboratory for new voices and new ideas” that runs a program called Launching New Plays in the Repertoire Initiative to support mid-career playwrights, such as Gardley, who was selected as part of the pilot of this project in 2011. Gardley wanted his play (which is staged in four settings through the grant) to be produced in at least one university setting in Florida, where the play is partially set.

USF’s proposal was selected; and the community engagement process began in the earliest stages of the play’s production. Members of the community were invited to come to campus to watch an early reading and discuss the themes of identity, migration, and education. Additionally, USF’s theatre students participated in the very first reading of the first act and have been intimately involved in all aspects of the play’s production. What better way to help students understand the entire theatrical production process, than to involve them every step of the way? Additionally, our local community has played an important role in helping inform those engaged in the creative process to give their perspective on these important themes.the road weeps, the well runs dry

As Amanda Clark, Marketing Coordinator for USF Theatre and Dance stated, the play is very “issue driven.” Although USF is the only university that was selected for this pilot project, the campus setting is uniquely positioned to leverage the opportunity for educational outcomes to emanate from this production.

This special play tells the story of a small group of native Seminoles, freedmen, and black Seminoles, who were part of the forced relocation by the United States government from Florida to Indian territory, traversing what is known as the “Trail of Tears.” Ultimately, they form the first all-black town in the country, Wewoka, Oklahoma.

The play has opened up a window of discovery for our community through storytelling workshops conducted by Green. She utilizes the important themes of the play such as “how your identity informs the community and vice versa,” as Clark stated, in her work with various groups in the Tampa Bay community for her workshops called “Remember, Write, and Tell: Interweaving the Person and the Community through Storytelling and Song.”

“Community outreach has been a real eye opener to me; people really respond – they just want to be asked,” said Clark. She continued, “this is, in the world of things, big.” The grant has helped open up a new world for the department about how to do community engagement at the scale and level that they have been doing it for this production. Every show features pre- and post-show discussions and musical performances related to the text of the show, such as a talk by a respected Elder from the Seminole tribe, an ancestral salute to Native American and African-American ancestors, as well as discussions led by USF faculty from the Departments of English, Mental Health Law and Policy, and Anthropology.

Stay tuned for more on the post-show outcomes for this groundbreaking theatrical event.

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