Theatreworks and UCCS dramaturgy students present “Elections at Altitude”

While Theatreworks has been rehearsing “House Arrest,” a streaming play seen by more than 300 patrons and available for a limited time until Sunday, Nov. 1, a group of UCCS dramaturgy students worked to replicate the docutheatre process of playwright Anna Deavere Smith.

Just like documentary film, documentary theatre is rooted in real life and primary source material including interviews and historical writing.

Anna Deavere Smith’s particular process is unique. Smith records her interviews with hundreds of subjects over several years, transcribes the text, edits the interviews into monologues and then uses the recording to guide her acting. She practices what is called” verbatim theatre” in which all the words spoken are quoted directly from interviews or historical records.

In October, a team of UCCS student dramaturgs conducted community interviews around the subject of elections and the American presidency under the guidance of Max Shulman, assistant professor of theatre, and Theatreworks Artistic Director Caitlin Lowans.

On the left, Ryan Macoubrie (top) and Emma Tang (bottom), and screenshots of the student actors on the right who portrayed them, Audrey McGee (top) and Arantxa Chavez (bottom).

Students conducted interviews with more than 20 community members – elected officials, volunteers, professors and political aficionados – and whittled the content down to nine monologues, all taken verbatim from the interviews. After that editing process, led by Lynde Rosario, a professional dramaturg and literary manager for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, directors then guided four students in the process of rehearsing the pieces and reading them for film.

The monologues were performed by four UCCS undergraduate students: GJ Noel, Audrey McGee, Jemario Patterson and Arantxa Chavez, with filming and editing by student John Colón. The collaboration resulted in a companion piece for “House Arrest” titled “Elections at Altitude.”

Theatreworks timed “House Arrest” and its companion piece “Elections at Altitude” to stir thoughts during this political election, where history meets present. Lowans shared that “The national conversation about leadership is one of the most important conversations to have this fall. Theatreworks is so excited that our first, fully produced streaming event offers such a rich jumping off point for conversation about what each of us seek in our president.” 

  • Curious about the process? Watch Shulman, Rosario and some of our undergraduate dramaturgs and actors as they discuss the process behind making “Elections at Altitude.” with the Facebook Panel discussion.
  • Additional creative process panels for “House Arrest” can be viewed here. It includes directors Marisa Hébert and Sarah Sheppard Shaver, and actors David Anthony Lewis, Jonathan Marcantoni, Jane Fromme and student Olivia Langley for a discussion of the unique creative process behind this virtual, streaming production, as well as the history and discoveries of Anna Deavere Smith’s work.