Science, Society, and the Arts is a multi-disciplinary conference involving Washington and Lee undergraduates and law students in the presentation of their academic achievements before an audience of their peers and the faculty. On March 12-13, 2015, conference participants shared their work via oral presentations, traditional academic conference-style panels, poster sessions, artistic shows, or creative performances. We are sharing highlights of just a few of these projects here.
Briefly describe your research project.
This is a play depicting poverty in the black community. Some issues in the black community are violence, drug use, mass incarceration and a poor educational system. Other issues include self-hate and generational discouragement. The main characters are Lady and her son, Boy. Through their everyday lives we see the issues of the American black community.
What about this project called you to exploration?
Being an African American woman myself, I have been passionate about fighting the injustice and discrimination in my community from a very young age. My mother was a social worker for over 20 years, and on days when she couldn't find a babysitter, she took me and my brother to homes in extreme poverty to remove children from the unsafe conditions. My father, a Nigerian immigrant, had to overcome racial and cultural barriers to advance in his career as an engineer. I was never taught that life would be easy; I was taught to continue fighting for equality long after you're exhausted and to let my voice be heard. The arts are my chosen medium of expression.
What was the most interesting thing you learned while working in this subject matter?
I learned that I am stronger than I thought I could ever be. God gave me a gift of creativity and an opportunity to share my vision with the community. Through the obstacles of trying to create a poignant piece of work with a small budget, my creativity has been able to flourish like never before. With the help of my friends, professors and the W&L community, I am building this project from the ground up. The idea for the play came to me over the summer. I developed it over the winter break, and I am bringing it together to be presented at the Symposium of Theater in Academe in Stackhouse Theater on March 27. I feel that this is a community project because it is the W&L community that is helping me to construct this piece that screams about the truth that every life matters.
What was the biggest challenge in completing this project?
Constructing the set is going to be the hardest challenge for the play. The set consists of recycled cardboard from the Commons and computer paper. Some dimensions of the cardboard panels extend beyond 20 feet, so it won't be an easy task fitting them through doorframes or storing them until the play runs.
What insight(s) did you gain from creating this project?
I am gaining a lot of insight on what it takes to run an entire production from start to finish. In the fall term I was the assistant stage manager for Night of the Iguana, so I have a bit of experience working backstage, but directing a play is an entirely new adventure that I am embracing and will continue to pursue. I've disciplined myself to set up a schedule for rehearsals, practices, etc., communicate with my cast members and give myself deadlines to complete work. I'm learning to be a leader, to stand confidently and to think more before I speak. I also anticipate what comes ahead. I have become more flexible about problems and am better at problem-solving in general.
What was your favorite part of creating this project?
My favorite part was taking the time to sit and write up the characters. I love to imagine the emotions and motivations of each character, the order of scenes in which the play will take place and the visceral response that can erupt from the audience. To me, my characters come to life and live out their lives; I'm just there to record the events. I love allowing my imagination to run wild and catch ideas as they fly past. Observing life with a different perspective makes my everyday experiences more vibrant and exciting.
In your mind, what is the value of considering science, society and the arts in the same context?
The play hits on multiple disciplines: there's poverty, social injustice, sexism, racism, social constraints and a display of negative community mindsets. The play itself is based around a scientific idea and clearly touches on the concept of socio-economic division of the community, incarceration and the lack of support and resources for the education of African American students. Science, society and the arts all blur into one another. The arts and sciences cause change in society and society influences the need for creation in both the arts and sciences. My play is an example. It's displaying a social problem via an art form that incorporates scientific concepts.