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Pacific play cut from community interviews

Professor, class members create original production on gender identity politics

COURTESY PHOTO - The students in the new Devised Theatre course at Pacific University will present six vignettes about gender identity in 'Much Ado About Gender,' produced by Jacob Coleman.A montage of different voices — experiences, fears, frustrations, hopes and humor — from the Forest Grove community and Pacific University have been turned into a unique theatrical production, “Much Ado About Gender.”

The show’s script, drawn from interviews from university students and members of the local community, explores gender identity first-hand by asking six big questions about gender politics.

The play, a collaboration between Pacific’s Center for Gender Equity and the theater department, is a final project for “Devised Theatre,” a brand-new class offered this semester on the Forest Grove campus. Also known as collaborative theatre, the art is a form of theater in which the script originates not from a writer or writers, but from collaborative — and usually improvisational — work by a group of people.

“We asked ourselves a question: what does the local community think about the topic of gender?” said Jacob Coleman, the professor for the course and the producer of the play. “We wanted to take a theatrical picture of this place during this time.”

After spending part of their time reading selections of writing on gender, the six students in the course interviewed 10 people each. More than 300 pages of material resulted from the transcribed interviews. Based on the answers, the topics were narrowed down to six pieces cut from the interviews, with students acting in each other’s creations or their own. Some big topics in the production cover the way language is used to include or exclude different groups of people, the ways social justice movements can be inclusive or exclusive and how one’s gender can be advantageous or disadvantageous in society.

“It’s an original work of theater that allows students to speak about the time that they’re in, as well as draw engagement from the community and have a ton of creative control,” said Coleman, who has been teaching at the university since 2012.

One of the pieces, cut by sophomore Andie Harrison, sees students acting out the story of twins — with one accepting their birth sex while the other does not. The piece demonstrates the impact and consequences of their views of themselves.

“We spent a lot of time bouncing ideas off of each other and trying new theatrical things. The project had dozens upon dozens of changes made to it before the final product was drafted,” said Harrison. “The point of our show is to bring new ideas to the conversation around this topic.”

Junior Paige Kester’s piece features a series of everyday conversations one would hear walking down the street — and how casual, normalized language and terms can hurt different people.

“My big hope is that people will be open to having interesting conversations after seeing this,” said Coleman. “We’re having a talk-back after each show, and I hope people can become more open minded to other people’s perspectives.”

Coleman and the cast see the production as a fairly simple — people can engage with the show even if they find gender identity a confusing topic. They encourage community members to come take it all in and bring their curiosity. The six vignettes feature a wide range of emotion, from humor to heartbreaking moments, and there’s character, spectacle and passion throughout.