Winthrop theater students tackle personal issues in unscripted style

adouglas@heraldonline.comJanuary 9, 2013 

  • Want to go?

    All events take place at Winthrop’s Johnson Theater and are free and open to the public

    • 11 a.m. Thursday: Tim Miller lecture and performance called "The NEA4: The National Endowment for the Arts, the Supreme Court and My Story of Censorship." • 8 p.m. Thursday: Tim Miller, solo performance of “Glory Box” (contains adult language and content); reception after performance • 8 p.m. Saturday: “Body Maps” performance by Tim Miller and Winthrop theater students

Instead of acting as scripted characters on stage, Winthrop University theater students have developed an upcoming play called “Body Maps” that depicts their own personal experiences.

Under the guidance of visiting Los Angeles-based actor Tim Miller, 20 theater students have spent the past four days producing “Body Maps,” which they say should get the audience talking.

“It’s arts as an advocacy,” said Winthrop freshman participant Riley Ketcham. “Arts as a way to communicate things we wouldn’t be able to just say.”

Winthrop is hosting Miller for a week to work with students until their Saturday performance. He will perform his own one-man play Thursday night called “Glory Box” – an appeal for marriage equality for gay Americans and immigration rights for their partners from other countries.

The timing of his arrival at Winthrop, Miller said, has been important because students have just returned to school from Christmas break.

During the rehearsal workshops to create “Body Maps,” Miller said, the students have drawn upon their experience of returning home after being away at college.

“The room was just alive with the stuff of life,” he said.

Many of the students, Miller said, described the experience of being back home with parents as stressful because of differences with family members. Those feelings are expressed in “Body Maps,” he said, which should give the audience a glimpse into how it feels to be a young person in South Carolina right now.

“Body Maps” might “ruffle some feathers,” he said, but the performance isn’t meant to force anyone’s view upon the audience.

The goal, Miller said, is to show the audience a perspective they might not have considered, not to change their values or beliefs.

“It’s not like it changes their whole world,” he said. “Social change is incremental, and it happens over our Christmas dinners. We know that change happens through personal connections.”

The play, said Winthrop senior Phillip Calabro, should “get the gears turning for the audience.”

The content is personal, emotional and passionate, he said.

“These characters are us,” Calabro said.

“Body Maps” participants are mostly theater performance majors ranging from Winthrop freshmen to seniors set to graduate in May. Although many students knew each other before being selected to work with Miller, Calabro said the workshops have been a bonding “transformative” experience for the group.

“It was like meeting everyone for the first time,” he said.

The faculty coordinator for Miller’s visit, Laura Dougherty, said she’s been “humbled” by the talent Winthrop students have shown during the rehearsals.

Performing unscripted plays based on personal experiences is “an upcoming style in the field of theater,” Dougherty said.

Tackling controversial issues in a new style, she said, is important to a performer’s growth.

“It’s the charge of artists to create those conversations,” Dougherty said. “We sort of wear it as a badge of honor.”

Miller says he’s not stranger to that controversy. He is a member of the NEA 4, one of four artists whose National Endowment for the Arts grants were challenged by conservative politicians because of the content in their work. The artists appealed their case to the Supreme Court in 1993 and won.

At Winthrop, Miller said, he hopes he’s taught students that “creativity is an act of citizenship.”

The experience of creating “Body Maps,” he said, should leave students with a refreshed view on pursuing a career in theater or the arts.

“You see the light bulb go,” he said. “It’s not this narrow success story of being famous on TV.”

Anna Douglas 803-329-4068

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