Monologues, Exhibition Explore Columbus' Social Fabric

Creative output from three separate Columbus State University class projects exploring local historical, social and geographical topics converges Saturday, May 1 on CSU’s downtown Columbus RiverPark campus.

Theatre students will perform a series of oral history monologues titled Perspectives: The Human Factor starting 7:30 p.m. in CSU Theatre on the Park’s studio theatre. Concurrently, an exhibition at the same venue will feature a geography project, “Wynnton on the Line,” on display panels and drawings by art students.

The geography students investigated the concept of midtown Wynnton Road as a racial and economic boundary, while the theatre students weaved together a performance from oral histories of Columbus residents “not often seen, heard or valued” and the art students created a series of drawings based on their perceptions related to Columbus’ social diversity.

“Different disciplines always ask different questions about the world, and combining art, geography and theatre allows us to explore our local community in very different but complementary ways,” said Assistant Professor of Geography Amanda Rees.

Rees’ Cultural Landscapes class based its project on interviews with 10 community leaders who have lived and worked both north and south of Wynnton Road. Sometimes referred to as the “Macon-Dixon line,” students asked if this road (near Macon Road) merely represented a dividing line in the city or was it a place of diversity that some experts believe is a critical element of successful cities in the 21st Century.

The students sought to characterize the interactions between residents on both sides of Wynnton to determine whether the street is a hard dividing line or the center of a neighborhood embracing diversity. Rees said her students determined the latter idea was more realistic.

“(The students) found a city region whose population retains a strong sense of local identity, community pride and engagement in contemporary concerns, and whose leaders are working to reshape the future of Wynnton,' she said. 'Plus, the students noted the neighborhoods north of Wynnton having a mix of wealthy homeowners and renters of wide-ranging incomes, leaving the division between income groups less definable from north to south.”

Overall, Rees said the project illustrates 'how we might rethink and understand Columbus in the 21st Century.'

Meanwhile, the theatre project is directed by Associate Professor Becky Becker, who collaborated directly with Rees in the June 2009 oral history performance and panel exhibition Bibb City: Collected Lives from a Mill Town.

“This project is quite different from the Bibb City production in that we are working with a much broader, more abstract idea rather than a finite place and time,” Becker said, “Our focus has been to talk with people in Columbus whose perspectives are not often seen, heard, or perhaps even valued. To that end, we interviewed homeless individuals, nursing home residents, people who are HIV positive, individuals from the gay-lesbian-transgendered community, and a few people who may be considered, or cross the boundaries of, ‘mainstream.’ We discovered many connections between these disparate perspectives.'

The students conducted interviews, prepared transcripts, shaped the transcripts into monologues and dialogues into a working script.

“After a day of rather intense exercises in class, the students also wrote their own monologues inspired by moments or situations in their lives for which they also feel 'invisible' or somehow on the 'outside' of mainstream society,” Becker said, “These original monologues are also incorporated into the piece.”

Meanwhile, art students led by Assistant Professor Kariann Fuqua initiated their project with a discussion about what makes up a community. Each student subsequently created a series of drawings based on an individualized interest or idea dealing with topics such as race, ethnicity, gender or age. Some of the students further conceptualized their work by interviewing community members. 'The project also was an exercise to identify stereotypes that we have and offer possible insight into how we can overcome them,' Fuqua said.

Becker said the three projects involved collaboration. 'Our work is somewhat different, but we are all trying to understand Columbus better through these themes of identity and difference,' she said. 'Perhaps our best class together was a couple of weeks ago when my students presented the first section of the performance for Amanda's and Kariann's students, and then we had a discussion about it. It helped us all to get on the same page.'

CSU Theatre on the Park is located at 10th Street and Bay Avenue. Admission to Saturday’s play and exhibition is free. For more information, call 706-507-8400.