In September, Dr. Charney led a group of nine graduate students to Provincetown, Massachusetts to participate in the Tennessee Williams Institute and Festival where they watched plays by or related to Tennessee Williams, and discussed them, along with other scholarship, in an Institute, now in its 11th year. The theme of the festival this year was “Tutti-Frutti,” including almost all plays by Williams. Each was curated as an a “flavor” that contributed to the breadth and understanding of Williams over his career, indeed the first festival dedicated solely to Williams since 2006.
Dr. Charney explained that the School of Theatre & Dance was partially responsible for the Institute. When he arrived in 2012, Charney had created the Institute with the help of Charlene Donaghy, who then ran the festival, and Williams' scholar, Thomas Keith. In the eleven years of its history, it has evolved, mostly based on the reactions from students who attend each year from TTU. Past festivals have included Williams and O'Neill, Williams and Shakespeare, Williams and Women, and Williams and Mishima. Charney conceived a semester long course to align with the festival, with students reading works in the summer, and writing scholarship in the fall related to the festival.
Nati Gonzalez, a first year MFA Performance and Pedagogy student who attended the festival, explained that a normal day began early with discussions about the show from the night before along with workshops from a variety of nationally and internationally recognized scholars. Students also met with artists who shared knowledge about the plays they were to see over the week. “They did a good job of structuring the institute in a way that we could stay engaged,” said Gonzalez, “but we had time to relax and process.”
The festival usually highlights Williams' more daring work that isn't produced often, such as a little-seen adaptation of his short story, One Arm, but this one also included two of his greatest hits: Streetcar and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. His later writings received negative reviews and little commercial success. It is theorized that this decline may be due to the public knowledge that he was a homosexual, or because of his propensity for drugs and alcohol. Despite the reason, his later work is commonly neglected in favor of the more well-known plays from the 40's and 50's.
“One show that stood out to me was Peaceable Kingdom,” said Gonzalez. Peaceable Kingdom is a 1981 Tennessee Williams' comedy one-act about a nursing strike in New York in 1978: “A company from New Orleans performed this play for the second time in its history with shadow puppets and marionette puppets, and I thought that was such an interesting way to bring a difficult script to life.”
Gonzalez believes she has grown as an artist due to her time at TWI, specifically her passion for inclusivity in theatre. She states that one of the shows, Vieux Carre, featured diverse body types which she found “refreshing and lovely to see.” The festival has helped her define her personal calling in the performing arts.
“Going to a festival like this made me understand my mission as a theater artist and how I want to be inclusive by embracing different body sizes, races, and genders onstage,” explained Gonzalez.
The festival seeks to honor Williams using the city of Provincetown where he worked on some of his most famous plays in the 1940's. Reflecting on Provincetown, Gonzalez said, “I had never been to Cape Cod, and it was gorgeous. I woke up some mornings before I had to go to the institute and would sit on the beach and meditate. It was beautiful.”
TWI is offered annually to graduate students at Texas Tech.
“Other students should consider going because it's a good opportunity to get out of Lubbock and learn about Tennessee Williams. They will see plays performed by theater groups from South Africa, New Orleans, and different areas of the world. It broadens your insight on how other people interpret work,” said Gonzalez.
Dr. Mark Charney, director of the School of Theatre & Dance, is the TWI sponsor each year and believes the festival is important to students:
The Tennessee Williams Festival in Provincetown offers students an opportunity not only to meet with/learn from scholars and critics from around the world, but also to witness many of the most exciting productions of the author's later works, often ignored. Students meet artists- directors, actors, designers, and curators- from everywhere, including South Africa, Greece, and Italy- and discover the impetus behind all directorial choices. It's a grand adventure, especially because Provincetown was a home to Tennessee Williams in his more formative years as a writer. And it's only one of our many experiential education programs meant to educate our students.
For more information about the TWI, please visit: https://www.depts.ttu.edu/theatre-dance/programs/signature-experiences/tennessee-williams-institute.php
For more information about the other signature experiences of the School of Theatre & Dance, please visit: https://www.depts.ttu.edu/theatre-dance/programs/signature-experiences/index.php