Have you ever watched a bird gathering twigs to build a nest in the spring? Or a squirrel hoarding acorns as October’s brilliant colors fade into the gray chill of the approaching winter?
Either experience is a lot like seeing Denison’s Visiting Vail Artist Professor Dale Shields assemble nearly two dozen curious students to create an original play and a family of friends over just four short weeks.
Shields arrived in Granville during the second week of September, invited by Associate Provost Toni C. King and the Diversity Advisory Committee in the Provost’s Office. Actually, he’s been here before. In 2007, he directed “Fires in the Mirror” at Denison as a Vail guest resident artist and assistant professor of theatre.
This time, in conjunction with the Spectrum Series theme “Migrations,” Shields worked with a group of students, representing a wide range of identities, discover how to write and perform their own migration narratives of living in America.
In their nightly workshops, they wrote down answers for Shield’s questions like “Who are you?,” “What do you want?” and “What is your objective for being in college?” He took their answers and turned them into lines for the production.
The students listened to one another, found things to laugh about and very quickly became a community of fast friends who were able to share many private feelings with one another.
Shields titled the production “I, Too, Sing America!” from a piece written by American poet Langston Hughes.
Opening night, the cast gave two performances at the Black Box Theatre in Burke Recital Hall, with a “talkback” in between, featuring the cast members, Shields, and faculty members Ron Abrams (Art), Linda Krumholz (English), Stafford Berry (Dance), and visiting guest professor of black studies Yvonne Williams from the College of Wooster. A third performance was given the next evening, and all three drew standing ovations from packed audiences.
The stage was set with a quilt created by Cindi Turnbull (Theatre). During the first act, the audience heard the lines of Hughes’ poem , as the actors and actresses riveted the crowd with performances that were touching and inspiring. Later, they sang “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway play “Rent” and performed dance routines that rivaled “Chorus Line.” Tong Liu ’14 played “America the Beautiful” on the Erhu, his Chinese two-string fiddle, and was joined by a chorus of voices as audience members were moved to tears.
As the student cast members told their own stories of who they were, they passed along their joy in having become part of a new family and community along with their hope that the whole campus will continue the tradition. The whole process only took a month, but it was clear their migration had taken them to a new level.
Student members who made “I, Too, Sing America!” possible were: Stage Manager: Kristen Edwards ’15 (Dublin, Ohio), Assistant Director/Music Director: Jaime Weinfeld ’15 (Navarre, Ohio); Cast: Nancy Aguilar ’14 (Chicago), Sara Blike ’15 (North Canton, Ohio), Wiselene Dorceus ’15 (Lynn, Mass.); Daniel Fiorentini ’14 (Inglewood, Calif.), Brandon Hummons ’13 (Chicago, Ill.), Lennon D. Johnson ’14 (Boston, Mass.), Tong Liu ’14 (Chengdu, China), Keith Mullings, Jr., ’13 (Harlem, N.Y.), Keith Nolen ’13 (Boston, Mass.), Jasmine Passa ’15 (Arlington, Va.), Khari Riley ’15 (Chicago, Ill.), Najee Rollins ’15 (Baltimore, Md.); Autumn Stiles ’14 (Jersey City, N.J.), Quaanzale Thompson ’15 (Boston, Mass.), Myky Tran ’14 (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam), Miwa Tsutsui ’14 (Tokyo, Japan); Xavier J. Vargas ’15 (Chicago, Ill.), Patrick White ’15 (Buffalo, N.Y.), Marquita K. Williams ’14 (Chicago, Ill.); Production Assistants: Baek Du Kim ’13 (Incheon City, South Korea), Assiata Berry ’15 (Boston, Mass.); Costume Deisgners: Niki Feehan ’14 (Bangor, Pa.), Tori Newman ’15 (Willard, Ohio); Program Cover Design: Gina Ezzone ’15 (Painesville, Ohio); Guest Vocal Director: Alexa Dorris ’12 (Indianapolis, Ind.)