Performance installation inspires audience to reflect

By: Erin Callahan – Chief A&E Writer

“I need a few days to reflect on it.”

“I had never experienced something like that before.”

“The whole thing was intense.”

Those were just a few of the comments overheard after the premiere performance of “(ir)reconcilable: faith & reason,” an original multimedia performance installation by the University of Dayton Theatre Program with collaboration from the Zoot Theatre Company.

Elements of dance, music, visual arts and puppetry engaged the audience in five rooms in the Black Box Theatre in Fitz Hall Friday night. The experience was about asking questions, about faith and reason, family and love, values and uncertainty. In fact, audience members were greeted with questions before even walking through the door. A theater member with a microphone asked, “What do you know for sure?” and “What advice would you give about living life to the fullest?”

“(ir)reconcilable: faith & reason,” directed by Michelle Hayford, associate professor and director of the theater program, coincides with this year’s “Rites. Rights. Writes.” theme of faith and reason.

“It shows the true diversity of faith experiences on our campus,” Hayford said. “It will help the community have more understanding of others’ faith traditions or lack thereof.”

The idea came to exist amid Hayford’s interest in installation performance, active interaction and themes relatable to the four elements of earth, fire, air and water. To identify these themes and cultivate engaging interactive material, Hayford turned to the UD community.

During the fall semester, Hayford hosted six story circles with student and faculty participants. They were challenged to listen to one another as each participant answered questions about faith, about an experience that left them speechless and about their spiritual journey, among other topics. From these recorded narratives, Hayford crafted the foundation for the play.

“I transcribed and read every one, and really dominant themes jumped off the page,” she said. “Once I saw what those [themes] were, I was able to craft scenes that could juxtapose and also synchronize themes.”

Donna Beran, lecturer, costumer and story circle participant said she learned a lot about herself and others by doing more than just thinking about ideas and beliefs, but actually speaking and articulating them in order to fully understand their meaning. She also said the story circles provided a way to move beyond the normal parameters of what we think of as theater by allowing community members to contribute and be a part of the audience as well.

The themes taken from the narratives were woven into scenes of the play, acted out by the performers through song, dance and sometimes through retelling the participant’s story or playing the recording of the participants themselves. In between scenes, participants experienced each of the element rooms.

The Earth Room, the Fire Room, the Air Room and the Water Room encouraged participants to consider and reflect upon the themes presented through the performed narratives, and introduced new ideas about the power of knowledge, taking risks and the contrast between physical and spiritual human experiences.

For example, the Fire Room stages the danger of knowledge, Hayford said. It demonstrates beliefs individuals could be forced to believe, it demonstrates individuals who believe in one truth. To Hayford, fire is evoking and all consuming, reflective of the potentially overwhelming nature of knowledge.

The expressive, personal approach to the play’s themes required dedication and discipline from the actors. The cast includes Hayford, first year Alexandra Damiani, sophomore Ohana Garcia-Isgut, communication professor Jenn Freitag and Zoot Theatre Company artist, Eric Arntz, among many others on the creative and production team.

“This is not typical theater, seeing how we’re working from stories and experiences,” Garcia-Isgut said. “We’ve had to keep it very real, although it’s hard when you’re an actor you tend to give [the role] your twist, we have to keep it to their story.”

Although the content of the play is true to life, Hayford said its theatrical multimedia presentation offers the audience something more – a way to communicate experiences that are rich beyond language. Garcia-Isgut and Hayford said the goal for the play was to spark conversation among the audience.

“What I hope is they go out having more questions than when they came in,” Garcia-Isgut said

While the reflective response may not have been immediate after Friday’s performance, the audience’s reaction suggests Garcia-Isgut’s hope was fulfilled.

(ir)reconcilable: faith & reason will continue Thursday – Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Black Box Theatre in Fitz Hall. Tickets are $7 for students, faculty and staff, $12 for general admission.

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