Chosen from a pool of 526 collegiate plays, Shot!, the first Temple Theaters production invited to appear on the national stage, will perform at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.
Temple Theaters’ Shot! is performing at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival tomorrow, marking the first time a Temple theater production has been invited to do so on the national stage.
The short drama was chosen from a pool of 526 other collegiate plays and musicals to be judged at the regional competition, which took place in January at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Last month, the production was selected out of a national field of 53 colleges under consideration to perform during one of the three time slots available at the national festival in Washington D.C.
“That’s a pretty significant achievement for Temple,” Gregg Henry, artistic director of the festival, said.
Henry also praised Temple’s theater program, calling it a “very solid pre-professional” program and a major program nationwide.
“So it’s no surprise that the productions are so strong and that the students are doing so well because of their fine teachers and their outstanding curriculum,” Henry added.
The original play was conceived by Associate Professor Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon in collaboration with professor emeritus Eugene Martin. The two faculty members used a provost seed grant to conduct research and interview multiple generations of African Americans in North Philadelphia.
In 2008, Artistic Director Douglas Wager helped the faculty team come up with the play based on the community known as Beirut. The community, located in the city’s Fairhill section, is about four blocks from Main Campus, and is home to a prolific gang, the “Beirut Boys.”
“We were able to provide a complex profile of a neighborhood that many people stereotype,” Wager said. “It’s a neighborhood filled with people who get up in the morning and put on their two socks just like you and I do. They just happen to put their two socks on in that place rather than the place where you live or the place where I live.”
Wager said the idea behind the play is to explore the history of the race riots of 1964 in Philadelphia while delving into correlations with gun violence over time.
“So the question is, ‘Who will stop the bullet, and how will we stop the bullet from continuing to rip a hole through history?’” Wager, who directed the play, said.
Shot! includes various factual components to tell a story through a format Wager calls a “docudrama of the 21st century.” Student actors recite monologues of actual interviews from the residents of the community. Additionally, Shot! features poems by Williams-Witherspoon and documentary footage and photos collected by Martin.
“[The students] had to work through a different process, which was audio tape as opposed to scripts,” Wager said. “We had to organize it and give it a dramatic shape. [Their commitment] was above and beyond.”
The student actors in the show put in about 30 hours of rehearsal per week and spent time researching over a five-week span before the play’s world premiere last October. Since then, the student actors have had a handful of rehearsals to maintain the production.
“I really think this is a big opportunity for Temple Theaters to get some notoriety,” cast member Craig Bazan, a junior theater major, said. “We put a lot into every show we put up here, and I think with the competition itself, we are going to be able to showcase what we’ve been doing these past years.”
The production cast is made up of mostly seniors, and for many of them, this could be their last play with the Temple Theater staff and students.
“Whenever you’re in a production, it becomes a family,” Williams-Witherspoon said. “So that’s the cool part, we get to hang out some more.”
The subjects of the play have also become part of the Temple Theater family. Some of the members of the Fairhill community are planning to attend the play at the festival, Williams-Witherspoon said.
“Who would have thunk it? So we’re thrilled on so many levels. I’m sure they would never have thought they would have got out of Fairhill,” she added.
The Kennedy Center has an educational mission to provide resources for the national development and improvement of performing arts. The KCACTF National Selection Team consists of academic and nonacademic professionals in the industry.
“Of course this is very exciting,” said Williams-Witherspoon. “It means that the voices of the Fairhill section of North Philadelphia have now gone to upstate Pennsylvania and are now going to Washington D.C., and then who knows?”
Connor Showalter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.