May 1, 2007
Euell's Iowa New Play Festival Script Reflects Diversity Ideal
Last season, Iowa Playwrights Workshop student Kim Euell used contacts as a theater professional to attract Obie Award winner and Tony Award nominee Charlayne Woodard to perform with University of Iowa theater faculty member Eric Forsythe in her play "Otto Bingo." This season she again draws on her professional experience -- this time her work with prominent San Francisco choreographer Joanna Haigood -- as the basis for "The Dance."
A production of this new play with music, inspired by Haigood's signature piece, "Dance for Yal" and directed by theater faculty member Tisch Jones, will be performed at 5:30 and 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 2, in E.C. Mabie Theatre of the UI Theatre Building.
"All of my plays have an 'A story' and a 'B story'," Euell explains. "The A story in 'The Dance' is about the intertwined lives of three ambitious young people -- two artists and a political activist -- living in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1990. The B story is about how Americans tend to 'dance around' the issue of race, particularly in their inter-personal relationships."
Euell says she began to observe this figurative dance at an early age. "When I was a child my family moved from my racially diverse neighborhood in Philadelphia to the Deep South when my father's corporate job transferred him," she recalls. "At the time de-facto segregation was still a reality.
"I lived in an exclusively black middle-class development called 'Suburbia Estates,' but my mother insisted on enrolling me in the all-white elementary school nearby because she felt that the quality of education available at the black school (which was located on the other side of town) was inferior. So during the year that we lived there I was shunned by both my white schoolmates and the black kids in my neighborhood."
After graduating from high school Euell moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, which became her adopted home. "I'd only intended to stay for a year but I fell in love with the region's mix of cultural diversity and political activism, not to mention its physical beauty," she says. "I was particularly drawn to the way that cultural diversity was celebrated as an ideal.
"In the circles I ran in people who did not have friends from diverse backgrounds (ethnicity, class as well as sexual orientation) were considered gauche. So when I began living in other regions of the country after 20 years in the Bay Area I was somewhat shocked at how segregated many aspects of American life still appeared to be. 'The Dance' is my love letter to the San Francisco Bay Area, which is where my identity was forged."
The script is not based on the lives of specific people Euell knew in San Francisco, but it was inspired a variety of people she knew when she moved to Oakland in the 1990s. "1990 was the best of times and the worst of times for African-Americans living in Oakland," she says. "The crack epidemic was raging and drug-related violence was spreading into middle-class neighborhoods. I was living just a few blocks east of beautiful Lake Merritt, and was frequently awakened by the sound of gunshots.
"In the flatlands further east people were virtually living under siege. But the entire region was uplifted when Nelson Mandela was released from the South African prison where he'd spent 27 years in confinement. He traveled to the Bay Area where he addressed a capacity crowd at the Oakland Coliseum thanking everyone for their efforts in the anti-apartheid movement."
Euell says she began writing plays to help diversify the images of people, particularly African-Americans, onstage. "I observed that many of the people in my social circle were not being represented in American culture," she says. "One of my goals is to address this oversight because when people see themselves on stage they know they have a place in the world.
"I'm also hoping that my plays will inspire and/or provoke meaningful discussions about issues of race and class in America. As a country we are so dysfunctional in this area. And the more we avoid talking about it the more loaded it becomes, resulting in incidents like the recent Don Imus debacle. I say 'let the healing begin'."
The Iowa New Play Festival, a tradition unique in American collegiate theater, is presenting more than a dozen new scripts from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop in productions and readings through May 5 in the University of Iowa Theatre Building.
The UI Department of Theatre Arts concludes each spring semester by dedicating all its resources -- acting, directing, design, stage management and technical -- to an intense and event-packed festival that offers student playwrights the productions and feedback that are essential for their development and offers audiences an opportunity to participate in the creation of significant new American theater at the ground level.
Tickets for all the evening productions -- $6 for the general public and $4 for UI students, senior citizens and youth -- will be on sale one hour before each of the performances through May 5, and tickets will also be on sale noon to 1:30 p.m. each day at the Theatre Building box office.
"The Dance" contains material of an adult nature. Potential audience members who are concerned about whether it is appropriate for them should contact the Theater Department at 319-335-2700 for additional information.
The Department of Theatre Arts is part of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to http://list.uiowa.edu/archives/acr-news.html, click the link "Join or leave the list (or change settings)" and follow the instructions.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.
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