Performance 1: Courtney Cohen – Exploring the Impact of Firsthand Experiences on Theatrical Rehearsal and Performance

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Faculty mentor: Alexandra Murray

Artist’s Statement: Dramaturgy, or theatrical research directly related to a production, is utilized in every rehearsal process so that the team and actors are able to understand and inhabit the world of the play. Rarely, however, are direct sources utilized in this process. In a field that prides itself on connection and empathy, the information that supports the foundation of the process is often impersonal. The purpose of this project was to explore how the incorporation of firsthand information into the rehearsal process, in the form of interviews, influences the rehearsals and performances of a preexisting theatrical work.

To investigate this connection between research and performance, I focused on the show, The Spitfire Grill. Spitfire explores themes such as the dying economy of the town of Gilead and the long-term ramifications of the Vietnam War. Over the last couple of months, I interviewed individuals with firsthand experience with these themes. In addition to the interviews, I built upon the “raffle,” which is a key plot element in the show. The cast and their family and friends submitted the reasons why, if Gilead were real, they would want to start over in the town. After listening or reading the interview materials, the cast filled out questionnaires related to impressions and takeaways from each topic.

Overwhelmingly, all of the actors agreed that this sort of interview dramaturgy should be utilized in the future. Where “A history book will present stories in a dry way, and news stories will…make them more palatable…” having aspects such as pauses in speech for thought and actual tone of voice allowed for more to be learned about the subjects than could be found anywhere else. Hearing about firsthand experiences allowed the cast to dive deeper into their roles than they had ever been able to in previous productions they had participated in. After all, it is hearing and sharing the stories of others that is the foundation of theatrical performance. 

Watch my performance below!
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Questions or comments? Contact me at: courtneyacohen96@icloud.com

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