Taking the thesis to the theatre
By Mark Kerr, Senior Communications Officer
Modern Fuel (21 Queen St.) More info
For many, research is a solitary pursuit. That’s not the case for Tracey Guptill, a master’s student in the School of Environmental Studies.
Ms. Guptill (MES’14) is collaborating with more than 40 people -- many from the Queen’s community -- on a multidisciplinary theatre project that will serve as a chapter in her thesis. The result of more than a year’s worth of work is When I Get There, a one-act play that runs April 24-27 at Modern Fuel.
The play incorporates multimedia elements, dance and live music to tell the story of Cara, played by Ms. Guptill, a young woman struggling with the ineffectiveness of her activism as well as her own identity. A search to find her birth father evolves into a much deeper quest to discover and understand what she can and should do to address sustainability issues.
The Queen’s participants on the project came from a variety of backgrounds including English, education, sociology, drama and environmental studies.
“The project is so much richer because of their input. I was really impressed by the generosity of others,” says Ms. Guptill. “I also found that academics really enjoyed having a space to express themselves. One person who studies climate change said he felt more positive and hopeful about the environment after participating.”
Involved in theatre much of her life, Ms. Guptill knew she wanted to draw on that passion for her graduate project that examines public engagement related to sustainability.
“There is a lot of research around environmental and sustainability issues, but it needs to be disseminated to the broader public. I believe culture is important for moving this knowledge into the practical realm outside of academia,” she says.
Ms. Guptill began writing a draft of the play before coming to Queen’s in 2012 but set it aside in her first year to concentrate on her course work. In the fall term of her second year, she formed a “coLABoratoy” where Queen’s academics as well poets, dancers and actors came together twice weekly to discuss the themes, read over the script, perform theatre games, and create their own scenes. Ms. Guptill rewrote the script based on that “lab” work.
For the second phase of the project, the actors trained in physical theatre, devising ways of telling the story through movement and music in addition to dialogue. Jane Kirby, a Cultural Studies PhD student, serves as the choreographer for the production.
Ms. Guptill says she was careful to avoid a prescriptive approach when writing and staging the play.
“Through the various characters, I discuss the opportunities that are available to us now that allow us to make a difference. However, as a community of performers and theatre-goers, I hope we can come up with new ways. I truly believe art helps us imagine the possible.”