School of Theatre teams with #HereToo to produce gun violence awareness play

Leon Valsechi
January 10, 2019

#HereToo co-creator and Tectonic Theater project member, Barbara Pitts McAdams will host two events during the week of Jan. 14 to promote the #HereToo project. The week will culminate with a performance that will highlight the beginnings of a collaboration between #HereToo and the School of Theatre.

#HereToo is a two-pronged project anchored by a web portal that aggregates stories, images and media clips that will inform a "Laramie-Project-like" interview-based play with the goal of chronicling the first-person experiences of gun violence survivors and the work of young activists across the United States.

On Jan. 15 from noon to 1 p.m. at the Arts and Design Research Incubator, located in 16 Borland Building, Pitts McAdams will host a discussion exploring new forms for the interview-based play through her work on #HereToo, and on Jan. 18 from 3 to 4:30 p.m. at the Pavilion Theatre, School of Theatre students will share the early stages of a play devised during the week by Pitts McAdams, theater faculty and students.

Jeanmarie Higgins, associate professor in Penn State's School of Theatre, organized the week’s events after speaking with Pitts McAdams on the heels of the release of a book she co-authored along with Moises Kaufman titled “Moment Work,” which details the collaborative method behind developing Tectonic Theater’s hits such as “The Laramie Project” and “Gross Indecency.”

“When I started speaking with Barbara about what we are doing at Penn State, we quickly realized that collaborating could lead to some great work,” Higgins said. “It seemed like a natural fit from the start and we are extremely excited to have Barbara here next week.”

A shared theater devising philosophy between Higgins and McAdams is the inclusion of the audience in the creative process. The piece presented on Jan. 18 will not be a finished product and will serve as the foundation of a potential full-length production, where audience feedback is a key component in maximizing collaboration.

“Sharing your work with an audience and finding out how it’s being received often becomes hermetic and it starts to take on meaning for the people in the room,” Pitts McAdams said. “After making a creative connection with Jeanmarie it was clear that Penn State and ADRI is a place where #HereToo can develop on several different levels and something beautiful can be created.”

The collaboration not only offers students an opportunity to develop their skills with a high-profile theater artist, it also presents a rare chance for collaboration among students from all majors within Penn State's School of Theatre. And while the opportunity for rich collaboration is a driving force for the project, at the heart of the work is the desire to bring attention to gun violence. 

“What we consistently find is that our students want to make work that matters. They want to know why they do theater and they want to know if they can serve a higher purpose,” Higgins said. “Producing socially engaged theater is something we strive for at Penn State and bringing in artists like Barbara moves us one step closer to attaining that goal.”

Last Updated January 10, 2019