SCT's Missouri Solo Play Festival Continues With Drama... and Dance

Jan 20, 2018

Springfield Contemporary Theatre's 2018 Solo Play Festival continues through the end of January.
Credit (Poster design courtesy Springfield Contemporary Theatre)

Springfield Contemporary Theatre presents the 2018 Missouri Solo Play Festival at SCT Center Stage in Wilhoit Plaza (corner of Pershing & Robberson) throughout the month of January, with plays about four great women running in repertory.   

This is the final weekend for the second show in the festival, “I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers”. The third Solo Play production opens TONIGHT (Fri. 1/19): Director Melanie Dreyer-Lude and actress Sarah Wiggin return to SCT with the poetic and stirring “Grounded.” And the festival concludes next weekend with dancer/choreographer Ruth Barnes in “Here, There and Everywhere.” Sarah Wiggin and Ruth Barnes appeared on “Arts News” this morning to talk about their shows.

Sarah Wiggin, Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance at Missouri State University, stars in George Brant’s “Grounded.” The protagonist, says Wiggin, “is an Air Force fighter pilot, and that’s how she completely identifies herself. Almost genderless—she considers ‘fighter pilot’, in a way, her gender! She is on leave and meets a man who’s actually brave enough to approach her, brave enough to be with her”—she’s quite a formidable personality, says Wiggin. “She tells  him straight off who she is, and she falls in love, and it means her life changes very dramatically and very unexpectedly when she has a child”—after which the Air Force reassigns her.

“Instead of going back into the sky as a fighter pilot, she becomes a drone pilot in the Nevada desert”—operating military drones from a computer screen in a windowless trailer outside Las Vegas. This causes numerous conflicts for the woman, in some unexpected ways. “When she’s a fighter pilot things are very black and white for her.  When she becomes a drone pilot, she’s finding that there is a lot of gray in the world, and especially in her daily world, looking at the screen. But even beyond that, moral grayness, emotional grayness,” says Wiggin. Her “targets” are twelve hours away from her current location, and “she’s just very removed.”  Not that this is actually a new sensation to the woman, says Wiggin: “She kind of was as a fighter pilot anyway, in the sense that she doesn’t see the outcome of her launching missiles.  She moves on very quickly from a bombing—she doesn’t see what happens.  On the screen, as a drone pilot, she does:  she’s required to look at what is the cost of her actions.”

In doing research for the role, Sarah Wiggin found out that, while the armed forces consider drone pilots “safe” because they aren’t in direct combat, a number of them actually suffer from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), “which is a very different injury.” A drone pilot can’t simply fly on to the next target, or back to base.

Performances of “Grounded” are tonight at 7:30; Saturday at 2:00pm; Sunday at 7:00pm; next Saturday the 27th at 7:30pm, and Sunday the 28th at 2:00pm at SCT Center Stage.

The final show in the 2018 Missouri Solo Play Festival is NOT, in fact, a stage play: it’s a dance performance, a first for the Festival. Ruth Barnes, MSU Professor of Theatre and Dance, stars in “Here, There and Everywhere.” Not only does she dance she show, she’s one of six choreographers who collaborated on it.  The show was developed in 2013 when Barnes was in Scotland—in fact, the other five choreographers all live in Scotland. “The catalyst for this,” says Barnes, “is Morag Deyes, the Artistic Director of Dance Base, the National Centre for Dance in Edinburgh. I had worked there a few times.  In 2009 I made a duet for two Scottish dancers at Dance Base.” She returned to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival in 2011 with a group of MSU students. Morag Deyes asked what it would take to keep Barnes in Edinburgh for a longer period. She suggested contacting dance professionals all over Scotland and interviewing them.

Barnes developed a concept dealing with “learning about choreographic process: what people do, how they make work, where they live, and why they live where they live.” In addition to asking these questions, Barnes asked the participants to create dance solos for her, for which she would create “response pieces.” Originally these were supposed to be short pieces (5 minutes or less), but eventually it developed into a full-length performance involving six choreographers (including Ruth Barnes herself), three music composers, and a costumer.

“So it was a kind of ethnographic project, but it turned into something completely different—because there was only one person who followed to prompt to make just (a) five-minute (piece),” says Barnes. “And then it’s ‘how do I put all this together?’  If I’d followed my mentor Merce Cunningham, I would’ve just tossed coins and whatever happens, happens! But one of the choreographers was adamant that it had to be in the order in which I performed it—and I’m going to perform it that way next week.”

This is the first dance performance featured in SCT’s Missouri Solo Play Festival (in fact, we speculated on-air as to whether SCT might end up changing the name of the festival if they include more non-play elements in the future!). So it seemed natural to ask Barnes if “Here, There and Everywhere” tells a narrative story.  With a slight hesitation she says, “Uh... yes and no! Everybody had the same prompt, which was ‘displacement and dislocation.’  So we’re seeing how everyone took that.  Some people interviewed me because they didn’t know me very well. So I think that it’s a journey. I think that audiences create narratives no matter what, because we need to—that’s the way we organize the chaos that is our lives.”  And people always bring a piece of themselves when they partake of a work of art. “I think this is a great conversation to have, because I think a lot of audiences come to a concert dance thinking that they don’t understand.  And it might not be so much about a cognitive understanding, or that what you’re seeing is a ‘story’, as much as what you feel, what you sense. It’s an emotional response in some ways, more than an intellectualization.” And that’s not just because of the difference between a spoken-word play and a dance performance; Ruth Barnes is quick to point out that “there are also words in this piece!” But purely emotional response is still a major part of its impact. “You’re watching somebody in motion much of the time, and how one responds to that, to movement. And also there’s music, there’s sound, there are other aspects that do come into play, and that we respond to.  Is it music?  Is it dance?  What is it? Is it a play?”

There are only three performances of “Here, There and Everywhere”: Friday the 26th at 7:30pm; Saturday Jan.27 at 2:00; and Sunday the 28th at 7:00pm.  In addition, there will be talkbacks after some of the performances of both Barnes’s dance piece and “Grounded.” One talkback session is offered following the Sunday-evening performance of “Grounded,” as well as two sessions for “Here, There and Everywhere” following the 2:00pm Saturday January 27 and the 7:00pm Sunday January 28 performances.  “There was only supposed to be one (talkback), but I asked for a second one, “laughs Ruth Barnes,” because there’s so little of this kind of dance in Springfield. We should have a conversation about this. I would like to know what people think, and what their questions are.”

Tickets are $10-$22. For tickets call 831-8001 or visit www.springfieldcontemporarytheatre.org.