Theatre professor crafts play about Washburn

Katie Wade

Washburn’s theatre department and Diversity Initiative are partnering to create a new play of spoken narratives featuring stories from Washburn’s own community. The goal of the WU Words Project is to “create a theatre production that reflects the diversity of our students, faculty and staff,” according to a press release requesting that members of the Washburn community submit their written stories to be included.

“I have always been really committed to telling the stories that don’t get told, the stories that are on the margin,” said Sharon Sullivan, professor of theatre and coordinator of the project. “I’m hoping that people who might feel like they do not have a voice on campus or that their voice isn’t being heard – I’m especially hoping that those people will submit things.”

Sullivan said the idea evolved from a similar project she did at the women’s prison and a student play she saw at a diversity conference.

“I was really excited to think about doing that for our own campus,” she said. “We have such a great, diverse campus, and I feel like people don’t always know how diverse we really are and how important that is and how much that is valued on our campus.”

Individuals are encouraged to write about their identities, culture, experiences and lives at Washburn. Sullivan said she is less interested in the “everything’s perfect” type of stories and more interested in hearing people tell the truth about their experiences.

“What are the things that are great about us? What are the things that we should be improving on? Because no place is perfect. Our community grows when people look at these problems that we have and when we celebrate our successes,” she said.

Sullivan feels that art and theatre make great tools for education about diversity because in them there is the opportunity to personalize these stories and make them more intimate.

“I’ve always found that when you have to share air with another person, it’s much harder to stereotype them,” Sullivan said. “So in the theater that’s what we do – actors share air with the audience. We’re breathing this same energy; we’re breathing this same oxygen. It’s much harder to look someone in the face after they’ve just told you their stories, their vulnerabilities, their successes, their struggles, and stereotype them, because we see the ways that we’re the same.”

All of the writings will be kept anonymous in order to give individuals an opportunity to write freely without fear of repercussion.

“I’m the only person who knows the name of the person who submitted the story,” Sullivan said. “It is important to me that people have that anonymity so that they feel free to say their truth, whatever they see as the truth, without fear…. People should feel confident to tell the story they want to tell without feeling like they have to censor themselves.”

These writings will then be crafted into a play of narratives and monologues. Writings may be used in whole or in portions and combined with other writings. These writings will also be published on a public website in full for individuals to read or use, though the writers will remain anonymous. Ultimately, it will be the themes of the writings laid out to tell a story.

“Me being me, that’s generally an uplifting story,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said that even though she is still in the beginning stages of this project, she is already excited about the writings people have shared with her.

“It’s much more personal,” she said. “These are the people you sit next to in class, that you work with every day. They’re librarians, they’re faculty, even people working in the cafeteria. These are our people and I think that makes it different…. Our love for Washburn comes through, the love for our community.”

Writings should be submitted to Sharon Sullivan, [email protected], by July 1 or given to the theatre department in 133 Garvey.

“I’m ready for people to get real serious and tell me what is important to them and about our campus,” Sullivan said.

The play is expected to be produced in February 2017. And while that is a long way away, Sullivan already encourages students to audition and attend.

“This is about us. This is our story,” she said. “I think everyone should have an investment in attending and participating in some way.”