Ensemble Member Kristiana Rae Colón’s one week in spring returns to Chicago this month at the Rhino Fest with Prp Theatre. Previously it was featured at the Alcyne Festival with Halcyon Theatre and now, after some minor rewrites and an added scene, it comes back to Chicago with the same cast. I got the chance to ask Kristiana a few questions about the her inspiration, this process and why people need to see this play now.
Abigail: Where did the initial idea for the play come from?
Kristiana: You know I’m a big NPR nerd. During the political violence that followed the controversial 2007 presidential election in Kenya, I was listening to a lot of NPR and hearing daily coverage of the unrest unfolding. The results of the election were called into question for corruption and vote rigging, and the candidates ran along very divided ethnic rivalries, so tribal clashes arose. One of the more disturbing things that I heard covered was that sexual violence was being used as a tool of war between tribal opponents. The stigma attached to rape in Kenya not only left the victims physically violated, but also cast out of their families and shamed in their communities, such that rape became a method of ethnic cleansing – destroying the family units of communities. Doctors were reporting hundreds of cases a day, with the understanding that only a fraction of women were able to get to treatment. I thought about how treatment is a luxury, how as awful as rape is in America, there are places in the world where resources are even more scarce. I thought about the uncomfortable privilege that Americans have to build resources for themselves, and that meditation lead me to vera, a woman who understands her trauma in the broader context of global trauma, but still has blind spots where her own healing gets in the way of her ability to help other people. I started writing it episodically in classes at the School of the Art Institute while I was pursuing my MFA. I worked on it in a Playwriting course with Beau O’Reilly and he directed a staged reading of the first act as apart of the culminating showcase of work from the course. However, in the midst of working on it, I was approached by Wellesley College about producing one of my plays, with the condition that it would be performed by an all female cast. Because my first play but i cd only whisper and what I was working on in one week in spring both dealt very specifically with sex and gender, I wasn’t inclined to have them performed by an all female cast, but I wanted to be able to take advantage of the opportunity at Wellesley so I decided to put one week in spring on hold and write a new play with an all female cast. I wrote The Darkest Pit. The opportunity at Wellesley ended up falling through, but Stefan Brun, artistic director of The Prop Thtr, was on the crit panel at SAIC the semester I submitted the first completed draft of The Darkest Pit for critique. He immediately loved it and offered to produce it at Prop. Once I got that up and running, I revisited one week in spring and finished it in Teatro Luna’s PlayLab series. That year-long workshop culminated in a staged reading in the Lunadas series that was directed by Ilesa Duncan. But…it was difficult to revisit after having taken a nine month break from the world of the play. I plodded through to the end, but I never really loved the play.
AEV: How has the play changed since the last production with Halcyon? Are there still more rewrites to come? What was the hardest rewrite to make?
KRC: When Halcyon approached me about producing one of my plays for Alcyone Festival, I thought it would be a good opportunity to put the play on its feet for the first time and see if a rehearsal process and actors would help me work out some of the remaining kinks in the script. What I didn’t anticipate is that I would end up rewriting 90% of the play entirely. When I started meeting with Tara, she called it to my attention that one of my characters was a prop character, and in an attempt to address that issue, the character of Lance was born. I wrote the first scene with the new character between first auditions and call backs, and brought in 5-10 new pages at a time to each rehearsal. I finished the play about ten days before we opened, so we were in tech already before the actors had the final scenes in their hands. The addition and weaving in of Lance wasn’t necessarily the hardest rewrite to make so much as the most exciting, but it did require me to do more work on the play than I knew I was going to do when I set out to revise. What was hard was cutting so many of the original scenes, scenes that I loved, but that ultimately didn’t work or serve the larger project of the play.
AEV: Why do audiences need to hear this story now?
KRC: In the time since I started writing the play, social media has taken on a much more pervasive role in our lives and how we process, receive, and communicate information. It has the double-edged sword effect of broadening the platform for progressive ideologies and movements, increasing visibility of political attitudes that challenge the status quo. The media’s recent acknowledgement of, interest in, and desire to commodify #BlackTwitter is a perfect example. The community of feminist bloggers/tweeters have media outlets discussing and publishing think pieces on the trends of WOC feminists on Twitter. Meanwhile, States across America are becoming more and more restrictive in legislation around women’s bodies. The oppositional pull of these social forces I think makes the conversations I’m raising in one week in spring particularly timely and necessary. Now is a time when audiences are primed to examine their complicity in creating a culture of permissiveness around rape and the treatment of women. When women (myself included) guiltily indulge in singing along to Jay-Z’s problematic “Eat the cake, Anna Mae” line in Beyonce’s intoxicating “Drunk In Love,” culture seems to be announcing that it’s ready to begin conversations about the uncomfortable paradoxes that exist in feminism and mainstream attitudes about women’s bodies and freedoms. one week in spring means to position itself as a launchpad for those examinations.
AEV: You have your entire original cast back from the Halcyon cast. How was it to go back into the rehearsal room a second time with this group of artists?
KRC: I love my cast. Can I tell you how much I love my cast? I don’t know how I got so lucky to have such a perfect constellation of artistic collaborators working on my play, but the script definitely wouldn’t be where it is without them. They are such a generous, engaged, intelligent ensemble. I’m so grateful that they were gracious and flexible and giving while managing the pressure of rehearsing a play as it’s being written. That being said, it was great for them to have another rehearsal process wherein they knew how the play would end when they started rehearsing. I did make a few more rewrites, but for the most part the script is nearing the point of completion. I added a new scene to open the play that I think clarified the protagonist’s arc and I revisited the way media lives in the play. The limitations of tech in a festival context meant that the media element wasn’t fully realized in this production, and so working out those kinks will be the final phase of revision. I hope a solid offer for a world premiere is the next benchmark for putting those finishing touches on the script.
one week in spring plays as apart of the Rhinoceros Theater Festival at the Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston for two more weeks:
9 P.M. FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 7
9 P.M. FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 14
When a media scandal strikes close to home, Vera is catapulted into confrontation with past wounds she’s desperate to forget. A mysterious client arrives at her community nonprofit with more to her story than meets the eye, challenging Vera to decide where her activism ends and catharsis begins. Laced with hip hop and poetry, one week in spring explodes preconceptions about women’s sexuality and how social media shapes millennial concepts of consent.