May 15, 2008
Students' Original Theatre Production Examines Perspectives on Police Power
A dozen students in Whitworth University's spring community-based theatre class tackled the complex and controversial issue of police power by asking simple questions. They asked a lot of questions to a lot of people with a lot of perspectives.
The result is a thought-provoking mixture of monologue and movement that gives voice to the various ways Spokane's police officers, public defenders, criminal defendants, journalists and citizens on the street think about police power in light of several highly publicized cases of individuals hurt or killed while in law-enforcement custody.
"Theater processes are particularly good at exploring empathy and seeing things from someone else's point of view, so we hope the audience will come away understanding police power from some new and different perspectives," says Whitworth Theatre Instructor Brooke Kiener. "The purpose of our show is not to provide an answer, a pronouncement, or a judgment. We aren't trying to assign blame, or make any one party look like the bad guy. Rather, we are posing questions and exploring all the parts of this issue that relate to those questions."
The one-time performance of the play "Crossing the Line: An Investigation of the Police, Power and People" will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, May 16, at CenterStage, 1017 W. First Ave. The performance will be followed by a speech by Boise community ombudsman Pierce Murphy about accountability in law enforcement. A Q&A session with Murphy and the cast and a reception will follow the speech.
Tickets for the performance, speech and Q&A session are $15 ($10 with student I.D.) and $20 for those events plus the reception ($15 with student I.D.). Tickets are available through TicketsWest at (800) 325-SEAT or www.ticketswest.com.
The play is the culmination of a Community Arts in Practice class taught by Kiener, a 1999 Whitworth alumna, as part of Whitworth's novel community-based theatre program. Students spent six weeks researching police power issues ranging from law-enforcement training and restraint techniques to excited delirium and Tazers. The students interviewed police officers, public defenders, journalists and Spokane citizens.
Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick and Terri Sloyer, an attorney with the Center for Justice, which is representing the estate of Otto Zehm in a wrongful death suit against the Spokane Police Department, came to the class to speak and answer questions. The students also read and attended plays from the community-based theatre genre, including "The Laramie Project," an award-winning play about the 1998 beating death of Matthew Shepherd in Laramie, Wyo.
Throughout the semester, students explored theatre forms, possible plot structures, and character studies. Rather than creating a traditional narrative, the students opted for a documentary-style ensemble piece juxtaposing monologues by figures such as Kirkpatrick and Sloyer with readings from the students' own journal entries. The play opens and closes with the line "Don't misunderstand me, please. I'm not trying to offend you. I'm just trying to ask a question."
"Crossing the Line" is an excellent example of what can be accomplished through community-based theatre, according to Kiener, who defines the genre as "theatre of the people, by the people and for the people."
Community-based theatre programs are rare in higher education, she says, and Whitworth's is one of most comprehensive programs in the country. With four required courses and one advisor-approved elective, classes taught by every professor in the department, and service-learning activities built into the curriculum, the community-based theatre track is as robust as the general, performance and technical theatre tracks in the major.
"Our students learn that theatre can be entertaining and artistically well-conceived but it can also be a vital tool to engage a community and examine themselves or an issue in a new way," says Kiener. "It's so easy for artists and institutions to do art that's interesting to us but may not be important to a community."
Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private, liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of 2,600 students, offers 53 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
Greg Orwig, director of communications, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4580 or email@example.com.
Brooke Kiener, theatre instructor, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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