The audience waits in a silent, pitch black theatre, anticipating the unknown. Suddenly lightning flashes and thunder pounds as eight actors crawl onstage, wrapped in layers of dingy, cast-off clothing. They slowly rise as they begin to shed their outer "shells" and pace together in a circle, making a music all their own - a march, an escape and a call to action.
They are the actors of Locust, a new play inspired by the genocide in Darfur. They are there to bridge the audience’s comfortable world to one many fear to know. And now, they will bring their play and their message to an international audience of artists and peacemakers at CalArts’ "Arts in the One World" festival, January 24-27 in Valencia, California.
In addition, a special performance of Locust will be given at SMU on at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, in the Taubman Atrium. as a benefit event to help raise funds for the students’ travel expenses. Tickets are $10 and may be purchased in advance through a member of the artistic team or at the door. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Locust, written by Marlon Meikle (BFA ’07 - Theatre Studies), was originally produced in the annual "New Visions, New Voices" play festival at Meadows, which celebrates new works written, directed, and performed by SMU students.
"Locust is a reflex, an involuntary and inborn response to Darfur and to the ever repeating cycle of genocide that has scarred the face of human history," Meikle says.
To prepare for Locust, Meikle and his artistic team read extensively about Darfur, met with members of the International Refugee Committee and Amnesty International, watched documentary footage from refugee camps in Eastern Chad and spoke with anyone they could from Northern and Western Africa, including Gabe, one of the "lost boys" from Sudan now living in Dallas.
Meikle found a metaphor for the ongoing genocide in Darfur in the life cycle of a swarm of locusts – the birth, the plague and the aftermath. Through a setting which Meikle describes as "specifically unspecific," and where "the carpet meets the sand," Locust transitions from the familiar banality of life in America to the terrifying and incomprehensible landscape of the crisis in Darfur.
Amelia Johnson (BFA ’08 -Theatre Studies) is the director of Locust. She says, "Locust confuses the audience about where the genocide is taking place. It begins to pose the questions of what would happen if this was occurring in our own country, and how would we want other countries’ governments to respond? What would it be like to be in this person’s place, and how does that affect my life? What connections do I have to someone living under constant terror of genocide? There are lots of ways to help - but this play is not proscriptive. More importantly, it creates conversations and questions that, I hope, will lead to personal and real responses from the audience."
The "Arts in the One World" festival at CalArts will include lectures, performances and roundtables centering on the Rwandan genocide and the potential of art for witness, representation, reconciliation and peace building.
Dr. Gretchen Smith, theatre professor and producer of the "New Visions, New Voices" festival, will accompany the group, which will consist of Locust’s graduate designers Lois Catanzaro (lighting), Jeffrey Franks (set), and Jennafer Collins (costumes); undergraduate actors Meghean Warren, Zach Gamble, McLean Krieger, Christin Siems, Brigham Mosley, Jennifer St. Angelo, Frederick Beckley, and Melissa Paige Wright; and Marlon Meikle and Amelia Johnson.
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