Monday, April 21, 2014

A 21st-Century Pandora Unleashes Questions

Julie Marie Myatt works as the resident playwright at South Coast Repertory, thanks to the grant from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation. Through the grant, Myatt and 13 other playwrights across the country are given the opportunity to develop new works (with regional theatres acting as their home base and resource) during a three-year process. One year in, Myatt’s curiosity has already revealed the fascinating stories of SCR’s own audience members.

Questions are the catalyst for Myatt’s project. Last season, she was found in the SCR lobby before shows by a sign that read, “Tell a Playwright.” Those most curious audience members approached her and shared stories about love, life and dreams. Myatt likened this process to speed dating. Simple questions began the short exchange, but by showing genuine interest she found she could get people to open up in an uninhibited way. “I’ve learned—and been reminded of in such amazing ways—just how very interesting people are, and the infinite number of stories there are in the world,” said Myatt.

Along with these personal stories, Myatt is using the ancient myth of Pandora and her box as a jumping off point for this project. She questions, “If Pandora, plagued by her curiosity, were to open the box of 'evils' of the world in 2014, what would be released? And if Hope, as the myth suggest, is the only remaining element in the box, what does that mean to us today?”

Still early in development, she has an idea of what she’d like to do, “It is my hope that the play will be like a tapestry or mosaic where bits and pieces of the audience members’ voices will be woven into the story, and only they will know what is theirs when they come to see the play. Like visiting a memorial wall.”

Myatt continues to collect stories and works to craft a play that features SCR and the community. She’d like audiences to take away from the project that they are vital to the art. She remarks, “I’ve learned so many wonderful details about the people who enter this theatre and come to see our plays. I often feel as if the stage should be turned around, and their lives should be the story, for that single moment.”

While the project has given her insight into daily theatre company operations and current theatre patrons, it also has led her to more questions about where theatre is going in the 21st century. In a sense, she’s opening her own box and unleashing the important questions of today: Why are we doing theatre? How are we engaging audiences? Is the community interested in theatre? How do we get newer audiences to attend?

The answers to these questions may lie within, just as Hope did for Pandora.

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