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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‘I Sing Earth’: Creating a Choreopoem at MacLeish
As twilight descends, nine students are making their way to the classroom at Smith’s MacLeish Field Station to rehearse a “choreopoem.” As they walk the woodsy paths in Whately, they clap out a rhythm that echoes among the trees.
“Now, take it to your voice,” says director Andrea Hairston ’74, Louise Wolff Kahn Professor of Theatre—and cast members respond with bird calls, growls and other wildlife sounds.
The outdoor warmup exemplifies the acting and ensemble techniques behind “I Sing Earth,” a play created by students in Hairston’s Choreopoem Acting Class this semester.
The piece—described as “a play with music about the environment and our place in it”—was written by guest artist, Pan Morigan, who incorporated ideas from essays, poems and other creative work students produced after spending time at the field station. From the role of science to the importance of imagination, the play explores the impact of human communities on the natural environment.
Students will give a reading of their work on Wednesday, April 24, at 7 p.m. around a bonfire at MacLeish. (A van will leave from Chapin loading dock at 6 p.m. for those who would like to share a ride). A full production of “I Sing Earth” will be performed Wednesday, May 1, and Thursday, May 2, at 7:30 p.m. in Hallie Flanagan Studio Theatre on campus. All performances are open to the public at no charge.
For Hairston, creating a play at MacLeish for the first time has been an “ambitious and fulfilling project.” At the start of the semester, she and Morigan placed students in “kin groups” at the field station to do research and observation of trees, bugs, birds, deer and elemental forces.
“Pan and I wanted to use the natural environment as inspiration for the actors,” Hairston explains. “The students were responsible for doing research on their ‘kin,’ and their direct experience at the field station was marvelous character work as they headed toward performance.”
DLena Duncan ’19, who plays Mama Earth in the show, was part of the kin group exploring wind, rain and water—in part through walks in the deep snow at MacLeish earlier this spring.
“Being here brings more of a feeling to what we’re doing in performance,” says Duncan, who is majoring in sociology. “We’re not just thinking of things intellectually.”
Fellow cast member Isabel Brinton-Fenlason ’19 was inspired to create graphic booklets based on her research about medicinal trees at MacLeish—work that will be displayed in Hallie Flanagan during the play’s run. She says the collaborative process behind “I Sing Earth” has “really helped solidify how I feel about art.”
The strength of that process was evident at the recent rehearsal, as cast members wove together music, movement and poetry while night fell outside the Bechtel Classroom window.
Theatre major Jenine Jacinto ’21 says helping to create “I Sing Earth” has deepened her understanding of performance—and the environment.
“This experience has broadened my views of how to tell a story about nature,” she says.