A new play opens this week at ENC that showcases a new program launching this fall, the theatre for social justice. While it is a new trend in theatre, ENC is the first Christian college to introduce this major.
Tara Brooke Watkins, ENC theatre professor, developed the idea. She’s been writing and performing plays about social justice since childhood.
“I feel like in a way my life has always been about theatre for social justice and understanding theatre to affect change,” Watkins said. “[When] I did drama in my church as a kid, I would get the books of skits and say, ‘this is not saying anything or making anyone think differently.’”
Watkins said the program started becoming a real possibility in 2014, after she began hosting weekly story circles with students on campus.
“[Story circles are] an indigenous practice that the theatre world has integrated,” she said. “You get a group of people interested in dialoguing about a personal topic. It’s not about opinions or political perspectives, it’s literally just hearing people’s stories. For three months, we met once a week for four hours at a time.”
Watkins said she ended each session by relating what had been talked about to theatre work and, often times, the Bible. This inspired her to write a play based on her students’ stories called “The Bible Women’s Project.”
The play received so much attention and praise, that the decision was made to extend the run – the first time this had ever been done at ENC.
“People loved it and they were asking us to do it again,” Watkins said.
The play was revived in the fall of 2016 and even ran for two weeks off-Broadway during a festival in New York City. The play still tours different cities and churches today.
The upcoming play, “Mother Courage and her Children,” is the first play to introduce the theatre for social program.
“I chose mother courage and her children to advertise what theatre for social justice is,” Watkins said. “This particular play’s theme is about the effects of war on society.”
ENC professor and founding cast member of “The Bible Women’s Project” Allison Tucker is directing play. She said the play, which was originally written during Nazi Germany about the 30 Years War, still has relevant themes today.
“It was written during a world war, it was written about the 30 Years War, but it could be about any war that’s happened since then,” Tucker said. “War keeps going and people are very physically effected by that. It causes homelessness, it causes poverty… Our economy is typically boosted by war but individually people are very negatively affected by it.”
Tucker also said that the play in itself is not the easiest to pull together. The writer, Bertolt Brecht, was known for writing in a way that detaches the audience from the play.
“He believed in something called verfrumsdungeffekt, which is best translated to ‘alienation effect,’” Watkins said. “This is the idea that audience members should be kept a certain distance from emotional connection to characters and subject matter, so that they may be focused on thought and action instead.”
While this has made the play more difficult in some ways, Tucker said the students have worked hard to pull it off.
“There are a lot of shows that would be easier to do,” she said. “It’s hard to design, it’s hard to direct, it’s hard to act, but they are throwing themselves into it. They’ve committed to it whole heartedly.”
Watkins said she is excited for the future of the program and is looking forward to what God has in store.
“I feel so strongly that this is what God has called me to do but I don’t know where he wants it to go,” she said. “I just really hope it’s clear that God is doing something really awesome that might be challenging view points.”
The play premieres Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and continues through Saturday. To purchase tickets click here.