Acting off the page: poetry becomes play production

Elise Barnett,Washburn Review

“Missing You, Metropolis” began as a book of poetry written by Topeka native Gary Jackson and winner of the 2009 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, but the creative and adventurous world depicted in the book couldn’t stay on the page for long.

“Tom Averill, Eric McHenry and I had been discussing interdisciplinary projects when Gary Jackson read from his first volume of poetry in the Mabee Library in April 2011,” said director Penny Weiner, who is also a professor in the Washburn theater department. “I was captivated and tickled and once Gary gave us permission to stage his poems, Izzy Wasserstein’s involvement was inevitable. We tinkered with the poems, reading, arranging, identifying speakers and considering the theatrical potential for quite a while.”

With the generous help of the various members of Washburn’s creative writing faculty, a stage ready adaptation of “Missing You, Metropolis” made its way to Washburn’s own stage, and just as the book examined a different side of poetry, the play will explore a different side of contemporary theater.

“The action of the play, Gary’s evolution in life and fantasy and art, is not seen through continuous action, but in snips,” said Weiner. “There is a story, it’s just not told in the way theater usually tells stories.”

Weiner was also involved in a staged reading that took place in Lawrence, Kan. last September.

The poetry cycle tells the story of a young African-American boy coming of age in Topeka while dealing with various tragic life events.

“Through it all, the author’s love of comic books and superheroes provides a mythic framework and texture for the poems,” reads the show’s press release. “On stage, the intersection of Magneto, Spider-Man and Juggernaut with the lives of Jackson, his friends and family is expressed through new art and music produced especially for this show.”

The play lands itself at a junction between visual art, poetry, music and theater meet and proves to be an interesting experience for its audience.

“It is very different than normal,” said cast member Samantha Heath, senior theater major. “There is a projection screen that takes up most of the backstage and the show has titles and pictures projected on the screen throughout the play. There is also a lot of shadow play behind the screen, that is pretty different.”

Even though the show promises to be something unique and different, the backdrop of comic book heroes and villains seems to be a thread connecting the piece to its potential audience.

“The show is special for a lot of reasons,” said Heath. “And it’s relatable because everybody loves superheroes.”

The show will open at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15 at the Andrew J. and Georgia Neese Gray Theatre. Encore performances will be held Feb. 16, 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. as well as a matinée performance on Feb. 24 at 2 p.m.

Gary Jackson will be attending the performances on the 22nd and 23rd with a reception and book signing following the performance Saturday,  Feb. 23.

Tickets to performances are free for students with their Washburn I.D.