Marlboro College is well-known locally for its worthy theater program and the many public performances directed by both students and faculty. But last August, Marlboro stepped out on the international stage when faculty member Jean O’Hara and two students performed their play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest performing arts festival in the world.
Jean worked closely over the summer with junior Karla-Julia Ramos and sophomore Annalise Guidry to devise a play called 3 Women, 3 Myths, which wove together stories from each of their families to explore common themes of their ancestral diasporas. Then they travelled to Edinburgh for a week, with support from an International Studies Grant and Geiger Travel Grant, and performed their play five times, part of the more than 50,000 performances by over 100,000 actors.
“The high point was getting to view a wide spectrum of theater shows day and night with Annalise and Karla-Julia,” said Jean. “People there are coming from all over the world—both performers and audience members—so it was really an international performance celebration. It was beautiful to see the way all the actors in our theater venue came together as a community. We got to know the other actors really well. We would go see their shows, and they came to ours, which was inspiring.”
3 Women, 3 Myths explores how each of the actors is informed by their ancestors—their songs, their languages, their spiritual practices, and their stories. With roots in Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Africa, and Ireland, their collective stories honor their ancestors’ dispersion from homelands across the water to what is now called the United States. A theme of water helped tie together their respective stories.
“Creating cohesiveness between three very different humans was the hardest thing, but had the biggest pay-off in the end,” said Annalise, who is studying theater and politics at Marlboro. “With this piece, I was able to hear stories from people I am close with every day in a new light. Working with Jean was an amazing experience.”
“I learned that if anyone is going to tell my story it should be me, and that my story is one that should be told,” said Karla Julia, who is working toward a Plan in theater and psychology, with a focus on the experience of first generation immigrants. “I found that storytelling is universal. Although I performed in a different country, and many did not have my experience in life, the way I told it helped us connect in some way.”
In addition to sharing their own work and seeing an astounding diversity of other productions, the travelers had the opportunity to explore new collaborations with people from around the world. Karla-Julia connected with a play written and devised by three Irish women, and hopes to direct or act in it herself. Jean travelled to Ireland after the festival to meet theater colleagues there, introduced to her by visual arts professor Amy Beecher, and is planning to collaborate with playwright Katie O’Kelly with the hopes to bring her work to Marlboro.
“Theater is always a collaborative art and it is really inspiring to work closely with student theater artists,” said Jean. “It also takes a lot of courage to get up in front of people and tell a story. Karla-Julia and Annalise and I were telling part of our own stories so it was even more of a risk, because we were talking about our families and the different challenging diasporas they experienced. We closed with this idea that we are our ancestors’ wildest dreams, and to understand how these lineages guide us and remind us of our strengths, which was very powerful.”
This remarkable journey by Marlboro faculty and students is just another example of how donor-supported grants make the college’s distinctive and collaborative educational experience possible.