Balancing Acts, the theatre department’s first production of 2014, is the culmination of a year of research, collaboration, and production. Six students completed a Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) in the summer of 2013 examining how Grinnell residents relate to work. Doug Caulkins, emeritus professor of anthropology, led Anna Banker ’15, Caitlin Beckwith-Ferguson ’14, Louisa Silverman ’15, Tye Smith ’15, Grace Tipps ’14, and Kate Whitman ’14 for the first half of the MAP.
The students, with majors ranging from anthropology to English, sociology, and theatre, interviewed more than 70 Grinnell residents including hospital workers, professors, hourly workers, and a former stripper. English major Caitlin Beckwith-Ferguson’s most memorable interview was with a woman who worked full time in a factory while raising a child and earning her bachelor’s degree. "I found it inspiring to speak with such a strong woman who was not willing to give up, even when her life got really hard. She is fierce; definitely my favorite character in our show," says Beckwith-Ferguson.
Theatre professor Lesley Delmenico co-taught the MAP and walked the students through the playwriting process in just a few weeks. Students worked from transcripts of their interviews and pieced together the best lines to put the characters in conversation with each other. Because the students had made personal connections with the people they interviewed, it was hard for them to cut down lines and cut out characters, but they were willing to do so for the good of the show. The actors in the production will be playing characters strongly based on real people, but with their names and some other details changed.
Balancing Acts and Celeste Miller’s dance show, Outfoxing the Wolf, are part of a multi-institution collaboration known as TOO BIG. The project links productions at Drew University, Wayne State University, the University of San Diego, and Grinnell College, all of which are examining the effects of the financial crisis on the way people in their communities live. Delmenico’s play examines the relationships people have with their work, and Miller’s show examines people’s relationships with money. Because Grinnell is a small town in the Midwest, it offers a very different picture of economic recovery — and a less precipitous plunge to begin with — than one would find in New Jersey, Detroit, or San Diego, where the other TOO BIG participants did their research.
Delmenico found over the course of devising this play that in Grinnell, it is impossible to separate work from community. She believes that theatre has a responsibility to speak about local issues that matter to the community. “If someone can say, ‘Okay I’ve been represented here, that’s my voice,’ that is what we’re going for.”
Caitlin Beckwith-Ferguson ’14 is an English major from Grinnell, Iowa.
Louisa Silverman ’15 is an anthropology major from Nashville, Tenn.
Tye Smith ’15 is a sociology major from Romeoville Ill.
Grace Tipps ’14 is an English major from Nashville, Tenn.
Kate Whitman ’14 is an English/theatre and dance major from Portland, Ore.