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Oct. 21, 2012
The history of midwifery and cultural views of femininity will play out on a Northwest Missouri State University stage over the next two weekends as students present the world premiere of “Midwives and Witches” in collaboration with the professional theater group that developed the play.
“Midwives and Witches” premieres in the Studio Theater at the Ron Houston Center for the Performing Arts with performances Oct. 26-28 and Nov. 2-4. Friday and Saturday performances are 7:30 p.m., and Sunday matinees are 2 p.m. Tickets may be purchased at the Student Services Center on the first floor of the Administration or by calling 660.562.1212 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Tickets also may be purchased at the door, however, seating is limited.
Set in London during 1606, superstition, science, religion and politics meet in the birthing room where accusations of witchcraft overturn hundreds of years of tradition and male doctors are fighting to replace the old female midwives. “Midwives and Witches” explores the ongoing battle over the politics of birth, from the past through to the present day.
The play was written by Jennifer Fawcett, the associate artistic director of Working Group Theatre, an internationally recognized theatre cooperative based in Iowa City, Iowa, that creates original plays, events and educational programs in collaboration with artists and community partners to engage diverse audiences and present untold stories.
Not only are Northwest students presenting the world premiere of Fawcett’s play, they have had the unique experience of being cast and rehearsing the play alongside Fawcett and her husband, Sean Christopher Lewis, Working Group’s artistic director.
“It’s probably one of the most exciting experiences I’ve had at Northwest,” said Tanner Marchisello, a senior theater performance major from Kansas City, who portrays one of the play’s lead characters, The Doctor. “It’s one of the closest experiences we will get to working in professional theater with a playwright and a director in residence. It’s not every day you get to work with the playwright. Doing ‘Death of Salesman,’ you can’t get Arthur Miller here because he’s dead. So having the playwright here and picking her brain and getting inside information is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Founded in 2009, Working Group has conducted just a few University residencies, with the Northwest visit being their largest and most intense, Lewis said. Fawcett arrived on the campus about three weeks ago and promptly saw about 40 students for auditions. She cast 15 students for the play on a Sunday and they began rehearsals on a Tuesday. Lewis arrived at Northwest last week and could be found working scenes with the actors, breaking down every line and challenging them to think about the emotions behind each spoken word.
“It’s a lot more fast-paced than the normal shows we do,” said Chelsea Mong, a senior theater technical design major from Kansas City and the costume designer for the play. “As soon as they get here, the show is cast and we’re off and running, and two weeks later we’re in dress rehearsal, which is terrifying. But it’s also really exciting to be a part of it and really push yourself to accomplish your vision for the play in that amount of time.”
Working Group conducted a workshop of “Midwives and Witches” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., over the summer, but Northwest students are laying the foundation for all future productions of the play.
“It’s been really interesting knowing that we are the first ones to perform this piece,” said Matt Sweeten, a senior theater performance major from Lee’s Summit, who plays The Doctor’s son Peter in the play. “We’re creating original characters. We have no resources to look at, no videos on YouTube of other performances of this show.”
Lewis, who also visited Northwest to work with students for their spring 2011 production of “See, Hear, Speak,” said the students have lived up to the challenge.
“They’ve been really brave,” he said. “We’re working on a really fast schedule. They’ve really just kind of dove in. They’ve been incredibly focused, more so than most professional actors I work with, which is great.”
Working Group Theatre’s residency at Northwest is being funded by grants from Northwest’s College of Arts and Sciences as well as an Improvement of Teaching and Learning Committee grant. In addition to mounting “Midwives and Witches,” the professional group has visited Northwest classrooms, teaching a playwriting master-class and guest lecturing to English and family and consumser sciences courses. Last week, as part of Northwest’s Social Justice Awareness Week, the group conducted a workshop with students, titled “Theater of the Oppressed.”
“One of the things we wanted to expose our students to was the fact that a lot of the work that Working Group does goes beyond what you’re going to find in the arts and entertainment section,” said Amanda Petefish-Schrag, assistant professor of theater at Northwest. “They’re doing really vital work that builds communities and tells stories of people who might otherwise be forgotten. All of that, I think is expanding the students’ potential for seeing theater as something that’s really useful in being socially engaged. It’s not just about performance or design. It’s about being part of the discourse that happens and part of the conversation about how it is that we live our lives and support one another.”
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468