Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Listening to Amanda Gronich

Listening to Amanda Gronich
Meredith Akins

Out of nowhere, I find myself in my last year of graduate school.  Where did the time go? Oh my, I’m supposed to write a thesis...wait, huh?...An ethnodrama...Wait! In groups?  Of people with completely different schedules and needs than I might have?  I was already nervous, but now...I am afraid.  Give me strength!  And so the journey of my last year at CCNY begins.  I keep reminding myself of what Sobha said several times in Drama In Education my first semester as a graduate student.  “You will be prepared!”.  I’m holding you to that Ms. Kavanakudiyil!  And so with that, I have kept my ears, eyes, heart, and mind open to learn and be inspired by others.  When guest speaker, Amanda Gronich, came to our Content Research Seminar class, I was listening.  

 I was in Europe performing when the nation was gripped by the events of Laramie, WY.  I returned to the States in November 1998 and Matthew Shepard had already died.  It was still big news and there was talk of hate crimes.   Just 4 months prior, a black man, James Byrd, Jr., had been tied to a truck and dragged to death by three white men in Jasper, TX.  Hate crimes were part of the conversation already and everyone had an opinion.  Even though I didn’t know much about the events, I was horrified that, once again, someone was killed for simply existing.   

I was eager to watch The Laramie Project on HBO in 2002 because I had missed much of the news footage in Europe.  I wanted to see what “actually happened”.  Sadly, I watched the first 10 minutes...and turned it off because it didn’t seem like a movie.  “Where was the action?  They didn’t even show an actor playing Matthew Shepard”.  It is embarrassing to me now, but I was young.  I didn’t understand that this was the most real movies get.  I had never heard of the play, The Laramie Project, thus I didn’t understand that the movie was based on the real transcriptions gathered by members of Tectonic Theatre, including Amanda Gronich.  There was actually plenty of action in the movie.  It was the type of action that lead to transformative change.  

 Ms. Gronich continued to empower us to think, “What is it that theatre can do that no other media can do” throughout the night.  It made me think of the responsibility and accountability on us as researchers.  How do I tell a story that can either inspire change or create more questions?  Ms. Gronich heard and supported our wants and concerns with our final project.  She listened objectively in much the same way she did when she conducted interviews for The Laramie Project.  By the end of the night, I understood that it would be through sharing.The sharing of stories, opinions, and most importantly, emotions with my research group.  It won’t always be easy and it is still a bit daunting, but if we are clear on what is important in theatre education and how we can share our narratives, our work of art will create a space for change or inquiry in a way that no other media can do. We have to be willing to tell our stories to one another first in order to find a way in.  This is more than just about a grade.  It is a way to share our artistry.

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