Deborah Campbell came to Mexico around one year ago from Arts & AGEing KC and presented a workshop focused on telling the stories of older adults. Through that and subsequent workshops from the past year, 10 Mexico women are ready to tell their stories through an original play called "Dances with Crows Feet."
The play will premiere 7 p.m. Sept. 6 in the Stribling Black Box Theater of Presser Performing Arts Center. Subsequent performances are 7 p.m. Sept. 7, 2 p.m. Sept. 8, 7 p.m. Sept. 13 and 14 and 2 p.m. Sept. 15. The suggested audience is teens and adults.
Presser licensed the name of the play through Campbell, where her production was known as "Dancing with Crows Feet." Campbell's videotaped production focused on an aging indigent population and those in care, whereas the Presser production looks at those who still are active and mobile.
"Deb will be in town Monday night to see the show, and I'm very nervous to see how she reacts to it, because it is so completely different than her project,” Presser Executive Director Lois Brace said. “She is taking this concept and marketing it and taking it all over the place. I'm her first. We did a lot of it on our own, but she did the workshop.”
The play was written and is directed by Brace, though she would rather be considered an adapter. She is starting to feel more ownership of the play as it nears its opening date.
"I've been saying for almost a year now, ‘These are not my words, they're the ladies' words.’ This week I began to realize that this is me too. I'm on stage with them through the woven pieces and threads that tied their stories together. That is me and I got real emotional about it," she said.
Brace first met Campbell in 2016 at the National Center for Creative Aging conference. Videos of Campbell's project were available, which Brace had watched. "It spawned and spurred on this [project]," she said.
The first workshop had around 20 participants from the 80 invitations distributed. That number reduced to the 10 who are participating in the play as the writing and workshop process took place over the past year. "[Campbell] had talked about how important life stories are," Brace said.
The idea of creating a play focused on the lives of Mexico women was a way to keep people active in the community and engaged in the arts.
"We kept those meetings going from September to the present and we had a lot of different workshops and exercises," Brace said.
She wrote 172 questions that would trigger memories or stories. The women either chose to answer a lot of the questions or just a few. Brace then took their responses and condensed them into the play format.
"Some of our stories that our ladies share, most of their family and friends are aware of, but they don't know the details and they don't know how it really affected them," Brace said. "A lot of the stories touch on the same themes, such as the toys they grew up with, dating, love, weight, divorce, kids, grandkids and their own mobility."
The play is a comic-drama integrating popular music from yesterday and today, as well as projections used to highlight the interactions of the women. The play also will open with an animation from Joseph Gordon-Levitt's HitRecord, which is a collective of artists who, once a project is completed, will make the end product available to the public.
"This is kind of an experimental production. We don't have a set, we don't have costumes. They're just singing and dancing and there's dialogue and we're introducing readers theater to distinguish the actors from the real ladies representing themselves," Brace said. "It's like reality TV on the stage."
Five of the women are performing their own stories, while the other five stories are performed by actors, where they read their lines from a notebook.
"The five did not want to be on stage," Brace said. "Some of their stories are very difficult to tell, so it was better suited for them and out of respect for their emotions, it was better to let someone else do it for them, and the actors are amazing."