Last year, I had watched Tapestry as a freshman. It was a mandatory theater show on social justice and I was ambivalent about it. From my first week on campus, I had not gathered much about the differences in the Cornell community and being new to the country made it worse. Although I was missing the social and cultural context of the skits, the universal elements of the show made it relatable.
At the end of the show, I remember being clearly impressed with it. I went to up to one of the cast members and told her that although I didn’t have any acting experience, I would like to be a part of the troupe – Ordinary People. As the semester progressed, Tapestry had faded into oblivion. When Ordinary People announced the auditions, I had gained some confidence as an actor, owing to the Introduction to Acting class. So I auditioned and was pleasantly surprised to receive the “Welcome to OP!” email.
Ordinary People grew to be a significant part of my freshman experience. I looked forward to our Friday meetings where we didn’t just play theater games, but also found the time to vent about college and have fun. But given the sensitivity of the topics we were working with, there were differences in the way we approach them, considering that troupe members have varied backgrounds and perspectives. Yet, we work through our differences (which make OP what it is), to staging effective shows.
This fall, I came back early to campus to rehearse and perform Tapestry. Rehearsals were exhausting eight to twelve hour ordeals, but the end product was worth all of our efforts. At first, a production of this magnitude seemed daunting – especially because this would be my first official work as an actor.
Over our five days of intense rehearsals, I came to embrace the stage. From being someone who only liked to dance in the privacy of her room, I went to being someone who was learning to do the hip roll on stage. During our 11 performances of Tapestry, I was elated each time we had a full house. The energy of the audience makes the stage all the more inviting.
Our audiences seemed to enjoy the show but were less enthusiastic about the discussion that followed. The facilitated discussion has always been the highlight of OP shows for me. The audience is mostly passive in traditional theater, so I believe it’s in these discussions that we really think about the questions raised in the skits.
The conversation is even more productive when two people have differing opinions. There are few platforms for two conflicting parties to just sit and talk about their differences. In OP, we acknowledge that an engaged conversation may not ease deep discomforts between two groups. Instead, we seek a connection between the two groups which may have gone unnoticed.
For instance, when I watched Tapestry as a freshman, I remember that affirmative action was a contentious topic during the discussion. On one hand there are minority communities who believe that affirmative action only compensates for the societal/institutional/economic disadvantages they must cope with; on the other are students from majority communities who think it’s unfair that a peer with comparable qualifications may get access to a resource that perceived to be better. OP facilitators began the conversation by connecting the two conflicting groups on their value for fairness and equality. They wanted to explore the meaning of fairness in an absolute sense and use that to connect conflicting individual definitions. This conversation wasn’t meant to remove the differences, but to understand them from a wider perspective.
This approach to conflict resolution inspired me and I signed up to moderate a Tapestry discussion this year. Having 300 people in the audience and only 30 minutes of discussion time makes it hard to have a conversation as engaged as we would have liked. But the experience of moderating Tapestry seemed surreal to me. A year ago, I had been a clueless freshman in the audience. The year leading to Tapestry was a journey of immense growth and discovery for me, and that realization happened on the Tapestry stage.
As enjoyable and a great learning experience as Tapestry was, I was relieved when it was over. Twelve hour rehearsals, classes during the day and three performances each night was an exhausting schedule to be on. Working for intense periods with the same group of people also led to personal tensions, even for a group of students who were so aware of conflicts and their resolution. But we survived it all and produced a brilliant show (Seriously, it was fabulous).
If you watched Tapestry and wanted to be on that stage, or if you just like Ordinary People’s work – show up for auditions later this month. For details, get in touch with troupe members or find us at clubfest or look out for posters and quarter cards. Or if you just liked the moderated discussions and want more of it, on 9th September (Tuesday), OP will be conducting a post Tapestry discussion at the Cornell Cinema at 7:00P.M.
Note: Views expressed in this blog post are personal. Ordinary People and Tapestry are not affiliated to this.