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'COMPASS' performance challenges how we think about leadership in US

Show to premiere April 22 in ASU Gammage Beyond series

Dancers in bright yellow and red clothing perform on a backlit blue and black stage.

"COMPASS" will have its world premiere April 22 as part of the ASU Gammage Beyond Series. Photo courtesy Ripe Time company

April 07, 2023

What is your earliest memory of a person in your life taking charge? What’s the angriest you’ve ever been, and why? If you could transform the world, what would it look like?

"COMPASS" asks these questions. The interview-based performance piece tackles advocacy, system change and intersectional feminism and will have its world premiere April 22 as part of the ASU Gammage Beyond series.

“It’s not a play in the traditional sense of being a play, and it’s not a dance in the traditional sense of seeing dance. It’s somewhere in between,” said Rachel Dickstein, artistic director of Ripe Time company and the show's creator. “What people are watching is about the emotional landscape of what it is to become and realize one’s own agency.”

Ripe Time company is devoted to creating theater based on adaptations from literature and centering around work from women-identifying writers or those writing about the female experience. Originally titled "Candidate X," the idea came to Dickstein about five years ago during an especially raucous political climate in America.

“('COMPASS') was originally going to be about folks running for elected office or already elected that defy standards of the white male patriarchal leadership structures,” Dickstein explained.

However, during the interview process, Dickstein found herself gravitating toward stories from leaders in the local community, schools and community advocacy. The piece also evolved from interviewing only individuals who identify as women to including nonbinary and transgender people as well. It was no longer just about the political context.

“We wanted to broaden our investigation into all individuals offering alternatives to oppressive patriarchal structures,” Dickstein said.

Interview-based theater is the idea that you can create a play out of verbatim testimony from individuals, rooted in a particular moment in time and the constellation of people who provide different points of view of that particular event.

“(The show) is a little bit different in that it is not rooted in a single event, but more so a phenomena — the phenomena that is having alternative leadership structures,” Dickstein said.

Instead of featuring the obstacles individuals faced in taking on leadership roles, Dickstein said she wanted to highlight where their successes were. Questions asked during the interview and the piece as a whole focused more on the positives, such as: “Who is the first person in your life who inspired you by taking agency for themselves?”

Over 40 interviews are represented in the piece. Dickstein made sure to include local voices from the Tempe community and hopes the piece evolves with each city it visits. Dickstein invites theatergoers to connect with the experience through choreography, imagery and text storytelling. Just like its name, "COMPASS" is very much about the strength and mettle one must have to stand up against severe obstacles imposed by society.

Dickstein hopes to inspire audience members toward advocacy in their own communities.

"We hope that coming to see the performance will be an immersion into a psychological landscape of what it is to become and realize one’s own agency,” Dickstein said. “When I interview folks, I feel completely lifted up by their own experience. That’s the experience I want to give the audience.”


7 p.m. Saturday, April 22, at ASU Gammage.

Purchase tickets online.

Alexis Alabado contributed to this article

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