Sojourn Theatre’s newest devised work in development, "Don’t Go," is a three-act journey of shared tasks, intimate exchanges, difficult conversations, a staged eruption of an epic story ... and a final coming together. "Don't Go" will play at ASU Gammage on Saturday, Nov. 13.
Answer: Back in 2017, as a company we were grappling with ways artists should respond to the political moment and shifting social dynamics in our country. Hyper-partisanship, disinformation, frayed faith in institutions of all sorts ... we had made nearly 20 years of work about civic dialogue and what it means to live amidst the histories and contemporary context of the U.S. But this time seemed to want something different, both larger and more intimate than much of what we had explored previously. Together, we arrived at a question that seemed useful — what makes us stay in difficult conversations? — and we started our investigation there.
A: The first iteration of "Don't Go" took place at the University of Southern California in 2018, in partnership with the School of Dramatic Arts. Four Sojourn artists devised that first-draft version with an ensemble of seven undergraduate artists, ranging from political science to gender studies to theater majors. It was performed with a new ensemble of strangers each night including USC faculty, students and Los Angeles community members. That early draft of the play now makes up the first act of "Don't Go."
A year later, we developed additional goals for the piece during Sojourn's annual summer ensemble laboratory and began asking: What shared experiences would the strangers need to deepen their ability to stay in meaningful dialogue together? What surprise, spectacle and shared story would help them form the bonds necessary to not quit on each other? This took us to the Antigone story: a narrative of two equally right and wrong ideologies that results in tragedy. We decided a participatory retelling of this story, with the strangers as protagonists, would make up the second act of our play and developed that idea in residency at Vanderbilt University in fall 2019.
We began exploring the third act of the play at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in winter 2020, investigating how to bring strangers together across meaningful difference. We had scheduled residencies in Washington, D.C., and Boston to continue development in preparation for our originally scheduled fall 2020 world premiere at ASU Gammage, and then — COVID-19. We spent much of 2020 and 2021 continuing work on the piece virtually, sharing a new draft of the "Don't Go" through ASU Gammage’s Digital Connections series in March 2021.
A: The heart of this show is the relationship between the two “strangers.” To be clear, these are not audience members. We approach them as a curated chorus, new at each performance and found over a months-long process led by our hosts/presenters (in this case, ASU Gammage) in partnership with Sojourn Theatre. Once these strangers enter the space for the performance itself, never having met each other before, they will respond to the show’s invitations and structure with utter uniqueness. The show has, in its own way, plot. It has forward motion. But how that plays out moment to moment, and where it goes, is entirely dependent on who the strangers are and how they move through the experience.
A: "Don't Go" posits that the American muscle for holding conflict is underdeveloped. It suggests that we quit too soon on each other — and that to live together and collaborate, we need to learn how to share space across ideological and identity-based difference. We hope that the audience leaves having witnessed two people build that muscle together and feel a deepened ability to do so themselves.
A: Being live in a space where actors and audience get to share moments, finally, in person. ASU Gammage is a gorgeous hall with a meaningful history of making performance central to the lives of so many people in a large, diverse community. Getting to help ASU Gammage and its communities come back from these last nearly two years of isolation, trauma and economic hardship is a privilege. Doing so with a work we have spent so much time building and which we believe speaks to this moment of recovery and rebuilding and reimagining, is a joy.
A: "Don't Go" has taken several different shapes over the last four years; it has changed as the world has changed. Sojourn continues to center emergence and adaptation as much as possible in our work in an effort to stay responsive and relevant. Our advice is for aspiring artists to do the same, to stay connected to the changing needs of the world and make art that responds directly to it.
7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13
ASU Gammage, Tempe campus
Tickets on sale at asugammage.com
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