Kent State Stark students to create ‘Voices from Hurt Street’

Meghan Caprez

Kent State University at Stark welcomes a new course to its curriculum this fall in which students will write and produce a play about abusive relationships for the campus’ main stage.

The course, entitled “Devising Theatre: Bullying and Abuse” will be taught by Brian Newberg, assistant professor of theatre and director and Robert Miltner, assistant professor of English. The two will lead a group of 16 students in a yearlong course to produce a theatre piece, “Voices from Hurt Street.”

“It had to be people that had the chops, really wanted it, and would make a full-year commitment,” Newberg said. “We have a tremendous group of a combination of English students: some of Robert’s best writers, some of my best theater students working together. That 16-person group will create a collage-style piece that could include brief scenes, poetry, song, memoir, testimony, that sort of thing. It will be a multi-genre collage piece.”

The show will be performed April 12-14 and 19-21, 2013, at the Kent State University at Stark Theatre Fine Arts Building. This will be the first time the university will perform a student-written piece on the main stage, Miltner said.

“They act, they co-direct, they do lighting, stage, makeup … they do so many different things, but they’ve never before been the authors or playwrights,” Miltner said.

The students had to apply to be in the course, which Newberg said filled extremely quickly.

“The collaborative process is something we do a little bit, but we don’t do enough of that at the university,” Miltner said. “They’re going to be encountering really in-depth and extended interdisciplinary activities that will also be a kind of community working together, more than just a class. They’ll actually be functioning as a community of writers.”

The instructors were approached by a group of theatre studies students who helped a friend through an experience with sexual harassment during the spring 2012 semester. This was what began the discussion about a student-created and performed piece focused on bullying and abusive relationships, Newberg said.

“It’s really exciting because we just started out saying, ‘Oh, it would be cool to do a couple skits here and there for FYE class,’” said Caitlin Roberts, an undeclared music education freshman involved in the project from its inception. “It got bigger, and we started throwing out ideas. It was all happening so fast.”

Miltner said the spring semester was two-thirds finished before the course was even developed. He and Newberg have been communicating through the summer to figure out the structure and materials needed for the class. They have also been in contact with the students, emailing about ideas for the show.

Roberts said she has sent videos of other performances to Newberg, gaging his reactions to each to prepare for the class.

“He’s really encouraging, and he’s really open-minded,” Roberts said. “I like how he understands this is something we’re really passionate about as students. He’s just stepped back and let us take a creative role and just go with it. I really like how he’s handled it so far, and Robert Miltner is pretty much the same.”

One of the original group of students, Olivia Durell, said the professors are taking a step back because they realize the importance of student-produced work, especially on such a sensitive issue.

“I think it is incredibly important that this is a student-based work simply because it feels more accessible,” Durell said. “People can relate to kids their own age. That’s a big factor in how safe people feel.”

Durell said the student who was sexually harassed felt safer approaching her peers about the problem.

“The student that was going through a hard time didn’t know how to handle things until we were able to get in there, get the story, and get her help,” Durell said. “While it’s known that we have resources on campus, I’m not sure whether students know how accessible they are or how to go about helping themselves. I really think this will help open doors.”

The students and professors will evaluate the success of the course and production after it is performed through a series of surveys and discussions, Miltner said.

“This is a work in progress, and that’s an interesting thing,” Miltner said. “It’s a new work by emerging writers.”

Tickets for the show will not be on sale until April 1, 2013. For more information about the show, visit the Kent Stark Theatre website.

Contact Meghan Caprez at [email protected].