Chronicling History

Lucy Cohen, News Section Editor

The Laramie Project, for Ferguson.

That is the new topic for Reader’s Theater this year.  Each year, starting second semester, Clayton High School’s Reader’s theater team starts preparing a 30 minute play.  Readers theater is a branch of speech and debate that is centered around one play or plot line.  The people in the play use a binder with the script and read off of the lines for competition.

In previous years, the director, Dr. Jonathan Smith, has picked an already written piece to perform for districts in late February.  In previous years, they have performed Othello, Alice in Wonderland, and The Man In the Well.

But this year was different.  The events that had unfolded in the summer and fall of last year, caused Dr. Smith to rethink the play.  Around Thanksgiving, he decided to change things up and write and perform a play about #Ferguson.  The final piece would be similar to the Laramie Project;  a compilation of many different interviews telling a story, but this time about Michael Brown.

“I thought given the piece it was too close to not do.  I think it is important to find ways to combine art and politics and I thought a lot about the Laramie Project as a model for this.  Instead of me just putting it all together, it is like how can we do it as a group.” Smith said.

In addition to Smith, Justin Seiwell also helps work to guide the Reader’s Theater group.  Seiwell and Smith have been working together for multiple years.  The topic also was run by Seiwell before it was formally announced.

“Why wouldn’t we [do the show]? Why not?  Especially because the timing worked out so well and the grand jury documents were all released right before Thanksgiving, which is exactly when my attention starts turning to Readers’ Theater.  This is just too perfect.  To be honest when we had a conversation about it, it was going to come out of lets do something with Ferguson.” Seiwell said.

Once both of the coaches agreed on the play, they released the topic to the cast and the play started full swing.  Over the past few weeks, the group has been working together to find as many pieces to compile.  Each morning starting at 7:25, the team meets to rehearse the new pieces that were found.  All types of documents, whether interviews or road traffic information, a piece from a witness or from Darren Wilson is going into the script for play.

“Every voice here is a human voice.  Whether it is a voice you agree with or not is less important to me then fully understanding everyone of those voices is a human, like a deeply human voice and their perspectives are different. A kid like Mike Brown gets real respect if every voice is humanized.”  Dr. Smith said.

All of the voices will come together to form a thirty minute play about the events that unfolded in Ferguson.  For the first half of third quarter, the team practices in preparation for Districts competition.  This year, districts will take place on February 28 at Parkway South High School.

If the Reader’s Theater cast receives first or second place out of all of the other teams, then they will advance to State which will be held April 24-25 at Missouri State University  There will also be a special performance at Clayton High School.  The Clayton team has almost always moved on to State.  But this year, since everything is being done differently, no one really knows how the team will place at Districts.   Even if the group doesn’t move on, then there are still plans in store for the future.

“If, if our season ends early this year, after February, then I say we still get together and work on this and turn this into something big and make it a thing that moves people.  To me it is already a success. ” Seiwell said.

From the beginning, this play was being thought of as something different.  It was not only going to be meant for competitive use.  Smith and Seiwell have already been approached about performing the play for another audience.

“ I don’t think about  this show as being limited to just District and State competition or even just limited to 30 minutes. At some point this is going to be a show that is much bigger than a 30 minute competition show.  Like Rabbi Susan Talvey wants us to perform it at CRC.  That kind of life outside of it.” Smith said.

There many challenges that come with taking on a task of writing a play and then performing the piece with justice it deserves.  At a competition with any piece, the team runs the risk of the judge not liking the piece.  Given that this topic is very controversial, the outcome is unpredicted.

“I think we are going to get a wide variety of reactions.  Probably the biggest chunk will be quiet eyes wide.  I think it will be talked about for awhile because it is going to have a life, a real life outside of competition.”  Smith predicted.

In addition, Seiwell had the same predictions, “I imagine it will be did they really do this? Why is it Clayton doing this?’  Seiwell said.

Even if the judges are not fond of the piece or the performance, that doesn’t matter.  There has already been success on the team that does not need a one rating of validation from the judges.

Seiwell summed the whole experience up when he said, “I think there is a deeper success that I have already seen happening.  I like seeing them already put that aside as the goal and instead what I am doing matters.  Plenty of unprovoked conversation has already come up on overnight trips.  To me that means that this project is already a success.”