"Exit: A Banquet Piece" was the product of an innovative course in theater and English and was inspired by Shakespeare and social justice issues.
“It was an immersive performance staged outdoors on Sutherland Plaza. There was not a separation between the audience and the performers, who led them on a journey and through an experience,” said Jac I. Pryor, assistant professor of theater.
The piece is inspired by Shakespeare's tragicomedy "The Winter's Tale" and the social justice toolkit "Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds" by adrienne maree brown. The two texts engage questions of rupture and repair in times of crisis, much like the challenges currently facing the world.
The production was the product of innovative six-credit linked theater and English courses taught by Pryor and Marissa Nicosia, associate professor of Renaissance literature.
“'The Winter's Tale' is a play that both of us knew and connected to with its themes of renewal, regeneration and recovery. It felt very powerful to the two of us,” Nicosia said.
In addition to being invested in the creative and intellectual work during the six hours they met each week, the students committed to a daylong retreat and hours of technical rehearsals in advance of the performance. They also arranged music and created original compositions with Emily Bate, a fellow at the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage in Philadelphia.
Pryor explained that the students fashioned “Exit: A Banquet Piece” using the devised theater process.
"It’s an approach to making a performance in which instead of beginning with a script, we begin with a question, idea, site, work of literature, or some other kind of creative prompt. The ensemble creates the performance from scratch. It is inspired by our collaborations,” Pryor said.
The design of the course created an opportunity for an experience that is less hierarchical than the traditional classroom practice.
“It’s a different way of relating to each other, and the students naturally responded to it. They were empowered to interact with each other. Our pedagogy honors where they are at that moment,” Pryor said of the students, whom they described as committed and engaged.
“The model for the course is intrinsic motivation. The students are interested in this project and process,” Nicosia said.
“The group feels like microcosm of our campus with students of different races, genders, ages and countries of origin working together.” Marissa Nicosia, associate professor of Renaissance literature
Students Jonathan Bercovici, Madison Branch, Kyleigh Byers, Trim Walker, George Ye and Aman Zabian were enrolled in the courses and appeared in the performance.
The students came from a variety of majors and levels.
“The group feels like microcosm of our campus with students of different races, genders, ages and countries of origin working together,” Nicosia said.
For Byers, the experience has helped shape some important life skills.
“This course gave me tools related to literature and emergent strategy and how to take what I've learned into the world to help enact social change. Being weird and creative while learning with others is the best way to bring something beautiful to life that encapsulates so many different experiences and personalities,” the psychological and social sciences major said.
Zabian, a finance major, found the experience provided him with new methods to explore himself as a performer and a person.
"It was certainly different from what I was used to, but there was never a moment of discomfort. The professors are two of the most sincere and thoughtful individuals I have ever met. To have a course that is very different and engages my creativeness is refreshing,” he said.