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"Hit or Miss" production shares student perspectives
For 17 Tennessee Wesleyan College students, the past few weeks have been a whirlwind.
For 17 Tennessee Wesleyan College students, the past few weeks have been a whirlwind as they prepare for TWC’s Department of Fine Arts spring production, “Hit or Miss: A Work in Progress.” Drawing its inspiration from personal stories told by students, “Hit or Miss” will be performed for free admission at 7:30 p.m. nightly March 22 through 24 and March 29 through 31. The performance will focus on one of the most tragic days in recent history. On April 27, 2011, violent tornadoes ripped through East Tennessee, affecting the Southern, Midwestern, and Northeastern United States, 358 tornadoes killing 348 people throughout 21 states.
The “Hit or Miss” cast will re-enact and tell TWC students’ emotional stories of how the April 2011 tornadoes traumatically affected them. This is the fourth year this type of personal narrative theater has been produced at TWC, the last few productions performing student stories focusing on topics ranging from the traumatic experience of sexual abuse to in-depth family portraits.
“When I first started teaching at TWC in 2008, I asked my speech students to tell a story from their lives,” said Dr. Eric Love, assistant professor of speech and theatre. “The first story I got was a student from Rwanda who told us about escaping the genocide at age five. I felt that these stories couldn’t live and die in my classroom. I knew I needed to do something with them. We collected several more stories from the class and then created a performance piece out of it.”
Focusing on how last year’s tornadoes changed TWC students’ lives, a personal narrative performance like “Hit or Miss” is a special experience for both the students’ whose stories are being told and the actors who are performing them.
“Not only do the performers seem to get more out of it than in traditional acting but the people who contributed their stories get a great deal of personal catharsis from having their stories performed,” said Love.
The process of putting together a personal narrative production like this can be an emotional one for both storyteller and actor.
“You feel like you’re doing something for somebody else that can’t do it for themselves,” said Lisa Latham, a secondary education major with a minor in theater who is performing in “Hit or Miss.” “I’ve never experienced anything like it. You cry and laugh every night at rehearsal. It’s such a joy to be a part of this production.”
Both Latham and Love feel deeply connected to productions like “Hit or Miss” and are hopeful that it reaches those who were affected by the storms.
“What’s been important about this work over the past few years is that I think Southern Appalachia is an area and a group of people that have still yet to find their empowerment and their voice in the modern era,” said Love.
“They’re the one group that it’s still okay to dismiss, to be stereotypical about. Wesleyan students and people from this region need to know that their voices, their stories, really do matter. The Wesleyan student body connected with this type of production and that’s whom this production over the years has really been for. It’s for the students and by the students.”
Love hopes that the East Tennessee community can connect to the subject matter in “Hit or Miss.”
“This is the first year where we’re looking outward,” Love said. “We’re saying ‘Yes these are our stories but they’re for the community.’ This is a community event, a regional event, a national event really. The devastation left behind by last year’s tornadoes affected us all.”
Performances like the upcoming “Hit or Miss” have inspired Wesleyan students during the past few years. Students have gone from audience members to cast members, showing up every night for productions which inspired them to become a part of them the next year. Love believes these personal narrative performances can expand a student’s interest in theater he said.
“Part of what I’m doing is wanting to show the Wesleyan student body that theater is not a bunch of boring plays by dead people,” said Love. “Theater can be used for social action, for change. Theater is something that lives and breathes in the here and now. Theater changes audiences when it is done right. You walk out different than how you walked in, at least in some small way.”
“Hit or Miss: A Work in Progress” will be performed nightly at 7:30 p.m. March 22 through 24 and March 29 through 31 in the Quad located in the center of the Tennessee Wesleyan campus. Admission is free and donations will be collected for The Salvation Army, all donations benefiting those affected by both last year’s and this month’s storms.