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Saint Mary’s to put on production showcasing inclusion

| Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Saint Mary’s department of communication studies, dance and theatre — along with members of the Tectonic Theater Project of New York — will present “Once a Belle…?: Striving for Inclusivity,” a production exploring diversity and inclusivity in Saint Mary’s community, Thursday through Saturday. Barbara Pitts McAdams, a Tectonic Theater company member and the 2017 Margaret Hill Guest Artist at Saint Mary’s, directs the play, which dissects the College’s well-know axiom, “once a Belle, always a Belle.”  

The performance was composed using the Tectonic Theater’s “Moment Work” method, a creative process that blends real-life testimony — using interviews with current Saint Mary’s students and graduates — with theatrical narrative.  Starting in mid-September, the group conducted over 50 interviews, whose transcripts ranged from two to 10 pages long. The company weaved interview material into dialogue and monologue and has breathed life into fictional composite characters, Pitts McAdams said.

“Our mission is really to find new theatrical ways of exploring things on stage,” she said. “Our question is always: What are the theatrical forms that make theater feel really electric and exciting? We start with the elements of the stage and the subject matter, and we figure out the plot afterwards. It’s form and content in conversation with each other.”

The play itself was built “inclusively,” as the creative process was open to all Saint Mary’s students, regardless of age and experience, Pitts McAdams said. The cast of 20 is mostly composed of freshmen, Pitts McAdams said, and for many cast members, this production will be their first show. 

“We made a decision early on that we would find a way to include anyone who wanted to be included,” she said.

Past Tectonic Theater projects created on college campuses have analyzed racial tensions, the effect of social media, intimate partner violence and other timely, charged facets of today’s human identity. Senior and cast member Makena Henell, said “Once A Belle…?” will tackle topics such as race, homophobia, socioeconomic status, religion, mental health and the importance of being a good ally.

“The big question that we’re asking is: Is everyone Saint Mary’s, or are some people more Saint Mary’s than others? Is this really an inclusive environment, and if so, when — and hopefully we show some of those moments — and if not, what are some of the stories that could maybe shed some light for people who don’t experience the exclusion?” Pitts McAdams said.

The set of the play includes the twin sentinels of trees and lampposts that call to mind “The Avenue,” complete with the bright hues of an Indiana fall.  The rolling set walls are stained to look like aged wood paneling on one side and standard yellow brick reminiscent of LeMans and Holy Cross Halls.  Though everything about this production will be intrinsic to the Saint Mary’s community, it will also offer audiences the opportunity to take a step back from the traditional Saint Mary’s identity and question what it really means to be a Belle, Pitts McAdams said.

“The Avenue will always lead you home,” she said. “‘Once a Belle, always a Belle.’ But that’s not true for everyone who’s been here.” 

Pitts McAdams said she hopes this performance will expose students to the SMC Theatre Department, provide resources for those who are excluded from the community and make audiences more aware of the need for inclusivity on the Saint Mary’s campus.

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