Before our ancestors first put chisel to tablet some 5,000 years ago, humans could only tell stories by word of mouth. This semester, 10 students are getting in touch with their prehistoric roots with a new performing arts course on solo performances and oral histories.
Jonathan Fried, an affiliated faculty member in the department of performing arts, created and teaches the course. He said he was inspired by a book he wrote with actor Alvin Epstein, titled Dressing Room Stories: The Making of an Artist. The book centers around the stories Epstein told Fried in their dressing room when they were both at the American Repertory Theater.
“The idea was to try to capture some essence of the experience in a one semester class,” Fried said.
At the start of the course, Fried asked his students to identify a subject they care for deeply, whether a person or cause. Fried stressed the importance of letting students choose their own topic. They must then interview someone within their topic of choice, transcribe their interviews, and create original monologues from their oral histories. They’ll perform their works at a three night event at the end of the semester.
“They’re journalists, then editors, then they’re playwrights, and then they’re actors,” Fried said.
Fried said he decided to work on a project along with the class.
“The point is if I’m doing the same thing they’re doing, I’m going to understand. I’m going to have a natural feel for what they need because I am going to be experiencing the same need myself,” Fried said. “I don’t perform mine, I don't transcribe mine, I don't memorize mine. But I’m doing the interviews—everything else, I am doing alongside them.”
Khyati Sehgal, a senior performing arts major in Fried’s class, said she is enjoying the course and her experience so far.
“I love how experimental it is, so we still have the final say [because] it’s our piece,” Sehgal said. “It's very much us collaborating together while we are all working on our individual thing.”
Sehgal chose to focus on her family from India and being raised in the American South.
“I’m from India; and my family was involved with the partition of India-Pakistan,” Sehgal said. “My family are refugees, but I’m also from the South. A lot of my history also comes from being raised in the South, and there were some themes that I found. There was an overlap, and I am on the track now of [piecing] parts of my life together.”
The students enrolled in the course will perform their monologues at the Greene Theater in April.
“It’s going incredibly, it’s just from heaven, this experience,” Fried said. “It wouldn’t be that way if it wasn’t for their kindness to each other and to me. I really got lucky. [The students] are so willing to help each other and willing to be co-creators of the class.”