ArtsKSU Virtual to present “Grace, or the Art of Climbing”
Play charts woman’s journey from depression to rock climbing
(Sep 22, 2020) — Kennesaw State University College of the Arts Department of Theatre and Performance Studies (TPS) will present L.M. Feldman’s “Grace, or the Art of Climbing” September 29 through
October 4. All performances will be streamed live for free through ArtsKSUVirtual.com; a simple registration is all that is required to watch online.
Faced with a painful chapter in her life and fighting depression, Emm enters the world of competitive rock-climbing. Her quest through physical training and personal relationships charts the journey of a young woman suspended between love and loss, strength and fear, and the ardor and grace of being human.
Director Emily Kitchens said, “Through the discovery of the strength within her body, Emm finds strength in her soul. The real journey is from isolation, separation, loneliness and depression to trust in others in connecting, to strengthening the connection in all of its forms. We can all find ourselves on this journey.”
Kitchens spoke to the cast on the first day of rehearsal, over Zoom, and said, “It does not elude me that our heroine Emm’s first words are ‘I need to move. Not location. My body. I think I need to climb. Up. A lot.’ It does not elude me that our bodies are vulnerable, separate, and have been kept in and small…it does not elude me that our spirits are beaten and busted up on the floor. We, too, need to move, and we have a long way to go. Yet, this piece can be an instructional guide for us, as we, too, are living on a rock during these times. I see hope that we’ll take care of each other and keep each other safe—physically, mentally, and emotionally.”
One way that Kitchens kept the actors safe was through climbing training, and KSU’s Department of Sports and Recreation stepped in to help prepare the actors for their vertical ascents. The staff members even opened the gym after hours several times so that the actors had plenty of practice on the 15’ bouldering wall and 47’ climbing tower. Kitchens said, “Some of what you will see is ‘real’ climbing, and some of it is more in the realm of dance, taking the expression of climbing, and making it theatrical.”
Chuck Meacham, chair of the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies, said, “The story of ‘Grace, or the Art of Climbing,’ is an engaging story that provides the opportunity to explore a compelling story about how people push through difficult situations. And, because it involves rock climbing on stage, it allows us to explore fully the extent of three dimensions on stage, which is not only visually dynamic for storytelling, but also makes it possible to observe social distancing.”
Besides the physical obstacles of climbing, TPS had another huge challenge: how to stage a play safely in a pandemic. Many rehearsals were held on Zoom, and not only is there an understudy for the main character, but there is an entire understudy cast, ready to take the stage if fellow actors fall ill. Everyone wears masks and blocking, or planning where actors stand physically on stage, took social distancing into account. Every turn, actors were washing their hands and wiping things down. Only a few actors were allowed on stage at a time. Finally, there would be no live audience in the Stillwell Theater. “It will be interesting for the actors to perform without a live audience, without knowing how the audience is reacting, without feeding off an audience’s energy,” said Kitchens.
The experiment may be helped by the fact that the production is fully costumed, and the set is designed with a functional climbing wall. “This is an exchange of energy in space, and we are gaining something that was lost. We have to do our best to make this accessible, and I hope the audience feels connected in some way, especially during these times when we’re all experiencing more isolation and separateness,” said Kitchens.
She added, “I love that the play doesn’t mean that everything is joyful and happy all of the time, but rather, how can I do this? I am seeing how I can make it through. In our world, today, if we can access that, it’s hope.”
TPS will be offering talkbacks after each performance, including Q&As with the cast,
design team, and playwright. Additional talkbacks will focus on depression awareness,
led by KSU’s Counseling and Psychological Services, and rock-climbing culture, led by KSU’s Department of Sports and Recreation.
To see the full schedule and register to watch online, please visit https://arts.kennesaw.edu/concerts-and-events/theatre.php.