The Boutelle-Day Poetry Center has launched “The Poem I Wish I Had Read,” a video series that features poets discussing works they wish they had been exposed to as teenagers, in the hopes of connecting local high school students with contemporary poetry.
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New Season, New Stories
Liv Dunbar ’23 says acting in a Smith production of a play about a New York City neighborhood has “reinvigorated my love for theatre.”
Christin Eve Cato’s “Stoop Pigeons,” about life in a mostly Black and Latino/a community, launches a college theatre season centered on plays by and about women, people of color and gender and sexual minorities.
For Dunbar—who served on a committee of faculty, staff and students formed last spring to create a more inclusive process for choosing plays at Smith—being part of the workshop production has been affirming.
“As a Brown Caribbean Latina, it’s always been important to me to tell our stories in ways that people can relate to,” says Dunbar, who plays a strong-willed Puerto Rican teenager in “Stoop Pigeons.”
“The impact this show has had on me, my cast mates—and, I hope, others who watch the performance—will hopefully convince both new and old theatre Smithies to continue to include more diverse shows like this,” Dunbar says.
Other productions this season include “The Thanksgiving Play” by Larissa FastHorse; “Twilight Los Angeles: 1992” by Anna Deavere Smith; Lisa Kron’s “Fun Home,” based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel; and plays written and directed by students.
Efforts to create more representative Theatre Department offerings at Smith are not new, notes Andrea Hairston ’74, Louise Wolff Kahn ’31 Professor of Theatre, who also served on the selection committee. This time, she says, the work benefited from strong student and staff involvement, as well as support from the Office for Equity and Inclusion, which helped the committee identify core principles and a framework for action.
“Theater is an expression of community identity—a bridge from the self to others,” says Hairston. “All of the plays we’ve picked offer that. It’s what our season is about.”
Theatre professor and selection committee member Daniel Kramer credits students with pushing for more outreach to theatre students of color, and greater transparency about decision-making.
“I have a lot of admiration for what they brought to the process,” says Kramer, who taught a course on “Anti-Racist Theatre” in the spring. “They certainly felt like BIPOC students too rarely saw themselves represented onstage. They took risks in helping us look at what needs to change.”
Students also advocated for plays that illustrate the strengths of underrepresented communities, as well as their struggles.
“A lot of classic theatre focuses on the trauma of being Black and POC,” explains Reina Makimura ’23, a member of the selection committee who is the sound designer for “Stoop Pigeons.”
“We wanted plays that represent Black joy—the depths of culture and race and all the ways it can be shown,” she says.
Director Kyle Boatwright says joy and authenticity are two of the elements that drew her to “Stoop Pigeons.”
“In this play, as in life, nobody is 100 percent good or bad,” notes Boatwright, co-founder and director of Amherst-based Rise Up Productions. “Though the show has its heavy moments, there’s still an abundance of joy in performing and reflecting on the truthful experiences that are represented onstage.”
During a recent rehearsal, cast members moved in and out of the set—an artful replica of a New York City apartment building—shouting greetings to each other through open windows, and gathering on the stoop to share secrets, hopes and sorrows.
Boatwright says cast and crew members have had valuable discussions about race, gentrification and other issues raised in “Stoop Pigeons,” which will have a workshop performance at Smith. She hopes audience members will be inspired to do the same.
Cast member Hero Hendrick-Baker ’22, who also served on this year’s selection committee, says it’s gratifying to have helped create a more inclusive season—for both actors and audiences.
“When we read ‘Stoop Pigeons’ last year, we just knew it had that power,” says Hendrick-Baker, who plays an Irish-American character in the play. “It’s also been such a joyful and thoughtful space in rehearsal.”