No One Is Alone

Most actors learn their lines, rehearse their scripts, perform their roles, and then move on to the next gig.  But what if the role you’re playing is yourself?

Two upcoming shows will give audiences the opportunity to see the transformative power of live theatre, up close and very personal.  Next week, at the Studio Theatre in Salinas, Hartnell College drama students will present “Can I Get a Witness,” a series of monologues based on personal material, written and performed by the students themselves.  Five years ago, Jeff McGrath, Production Manager at the Western Stage, was given the task of coming up with an event for the spring.

“It was during a mountain bike ride in Fort Ord,” McGrath says.  “I was remembering a conversation I’d had with a professor about what drives us to do theatre.”

McGrath says that when stories are compelling, we in the audience can identify with the story’s characters and its conflicts.  “This can give credence to events in our own lives.  We become a witness to those things that are important to us, which can make our own lives seem more real.  There’s a corroboration: someone saw this.”

And seeing something, really seeing it, can often be the first step toward letting go.

Since the inception of “Can I Get a Witness,” Hartnell students have braved the territory of personal writing and performance to offer pieces about fear, isolation and prejudice.  This year, the theme is regret.  The performances are monologues, but the students deliver them to another individual on stage, who may improvise a bit of dialogue; the other students are also on stage, as witnesses.  This year, there will be seven pieces, including one by a young woman who had a misunderstanding with her sister in Japan over a single word; a student who voices regret to a director; and one who will speak to a brother who took his own life.

Bringing such stories out into the open heals not only the performer but the audience as well.  Here are some more stories: a lesbian mother speaks in loving amazement to her son; a father struggles to understand the death of a child; a woman wonders why she’s had so many strange encounters with the police.  These and other compelling personal stories will be performed on stage this weekend at Spotlife, a solo performance class taught by Clifford Henderson and Dixie Cox in Santa Cruz.  (I’m one of the performers.)  The eight-week Spotlife class takes eight participants through the process of developing an original monologue; the eighth class is the performance.

On the first day of class, those who had taken Spotlife before offered us newbies some helpful thoughts: trust the process; one can always find humor even in the darkest places; the more personal the story, the more universal its appeal; and no one is alone in this.  At the theatre, everyone is a witness.

“Can I Get a Witness,” Saturday March 24, 7:30 p.m., Sunday March 25, 1:30 p.m., Hartnell College Performing Arts Building, Studio Theater (411 Central Ave. Salinas).  Admission by donation.

“ SpotLife,” Saturday, March 17, 2:00 p.m., Broadway Playhouse, 526 Broadway, one block south of Ocean St., Santa Cruz.  Suggested $5-10 donation.