Class project evolves into fully staged documentary
'When Revolution Becomes rebellion' looks at Vietnam-era events
Julian Seltzer '15 and Amanda Stern '15 aren't just paying it forward. They're playing it forward.
As students in American Studies Professor Joyce Antler's spring 2012 course History as Theater, the two sophomores took part in researching, writing, editing and performing a dramatic reading of the script “When Rebellion Becomes Revolution: A Play of Protest, Murder, Denial and Atonement.”
The script, which looked at Vietnam-era events on the Brandeis campus in 1970, was the capstone project for their course, and for most students, once grades were in, that was the end of it.
Not for Seltzer and Stern.
Beginning last fall, Seltzer, an American studies major, and Stern, a theater arts and FTIM double major, shouldered the work of revising the script for the dramatic reading into a workable production script. They sought funding, managed auditions, blocked out scenes and promoted the play.
That work is coming to fruition this coming weekend with performances Friday, Feb. 8 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 9 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Feb. 10 at 3 p.m. in Schwartz Auditorium. Performances are free and open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis.
When the students met with Antler in October, she asked whether they wanted to direct another reading of the play; they responded that the work deserved a full-scale production, and suggested to Antler that it become part of the Spring 2013 Season of Free Play. Antler agreed to seek support from the American Studies Program, and the all three of them began looking into how to have the play be a part of the ‘DEIS Impact 2013 Festival. Eventually, the festival provided generous financial support.
“When Rebellion Becomes Revolution” examines the actions of then-Brandeis students Kathy Power and Susan Saxe, who were involved in the 1970 robbery of the State Street Bank in Brighton, Mass., during which a Boston policeman, Walter Schroeder, was shot to death. The students considered themselves revolutionaries fighting in opposition to the Vietnam war. Both women were on the FBI's most wanted list for years; Power gave herself up in the early 1990s after more than 20 years on the run.
Seltzer and Stern say they are thrilled and challenged by the documentary play because the history it covers is compelling and the historical characters involved are strong.
Auditions were held in November, and by December casting of 14 players – seven more than in the dramatic reading – was complete. The 14 actors portray 50-plus historical characters.
Luckily the actors were not just talented performers, but were interested in understanding the history and researching their characters. During break and the rehearsal process, Seltzer and Stern shared with them many of the archival documents, records, newspaper articles and interviews from which the play’s lines were written.
Because the play is set at Brandeis and many of the people involved in the original events are still connected to the school, these performances offer a rare opportunity for reflection and historical memory.
Many alumni have reserved seats, especially graduates from the years of around ‘65-’75.
For Antler, who is the Samuel Lane Professor of American Jewish History and Culture, Stern and Seltzer's decision to "play it forward" by developing the script into a full-fledged production and embedding it into 'DEIS Impact week was a rewarding acknowledgement of the depth of the course.
"Quite a number of our best and most serious dramatists, like David Mamet and Jon Robin Baitz, have become interested in radical youth protests of this generation,” Antler says. “Not to compare our collaborative effort to the plays of these theater greats, but I feel that this format, by providing historical context and a sense of the accidents, blunders and contingencies of history, offers a compelling perspective. As we think about radical protest and how the meaning of social justice has changed on the college campus, we would do well to ponder these events."
There will be a Q&A session after each performance and a special talkback session with the original writers, alumni and professors who were at Brandeis during the events depicted in the play after Sunday performance.
Melanie Zoltán is an academic administrator in American Studies and Journalism, and a communications coordinator for the Division of Social Sciences.