Michelle Hayford’s artistic stamp as new director of the University of Dayton’s Theatre Program will be evidenced in the debut of her original play “Irreconcilable: Faith and Reason,” which begins Friday in the Black Box Theatre of Raymond L. Fitz Hall.
The community-driven “Irreconcilable” is primarily built from UD’s programming series “Rites. Rights. Writes.” This year’s focus revolves around the balance of faith and reason, specifically a discussion of how arts shape perceptions of social issues and how they create cultural, political and personal change. Hayford, who enjoys bringing theory into practice through performance and whose research interests include ethno-drama, readily admits the play signals a significant, revamped change to the university’s theater component.
“UD theater is really going to be aligned with the values of UD as an institution in terms of servant leadership, community engagement and social justice,” Hayford said. “UD wants to mold students that graduate with the skills to create original works that are responsive to community. We want to work on using theater and using talent toward working on social justice. Theater can serve as a site of democratic space where people can engage with one another, practice empathy and be open to other perspectives. There is radical potential in the theater for creating transformation. UD is getting away from the model of theater being seen as merely entertainment.”
Hayford, who previously served as theatre program leader and assistant director of the Bower School of Music, Theatre and Visual Art at Florida Gulf Coast University, says the genesis of “Irreconcilable,” which she also directs, is derived from six story circle events she facilitated at UD’s ArtStreet. After she transcribed the interviews, four themes arose consisting of parallel journeys, love never dies, parents and children, and nature cathedrals. The main space of the Black Box Theatre will focus on these themes, but the remaining portion of the evening will be treated as a performance installation. The audience will leave the main space and walk through four different spaces adjacent to it. The spaces, conceptualized by the elements of earth, air, fire and water, will incorporate masks and puppetry courtesy of Zoot Theatre Company in addition to kinetic sculpture and design.
“It’s going to be exciting to have the audience move through the show,” Hayford said. “The performances in the element rooms happen simultaneously, but the audience will be together for the main portion. It’s particularly great to be able to collaborate with Zoot. It’s amazing Dayton has a professional puppet theater.”
“This play is truly an original project,” said D. Tristan Cupp, Zoot artistic director who will be a UD artist-in-residence this semester. “It asks you to dig deeper and not draw conclusions so quickly. The installations are like inspirations. This has been one of my most complex assignments. Sometimes you can’t really get your creative juices flowing until you work on something organic or original.”
Looking ahead, Hayford anticipates spearheading UD’s thought-provoking “One Sunday in Birmingham” (Feb. 27-28) and “Pouring Tea: Black Gay Men of the South Tell Their Tales” (April 21).
“Irreconcilable” features an artistic team including music director David Sievers, choreographer Richard Mosley, technical director Matt Evans and costumer Donna Beran.
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