In recognition of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death, L.A. Theatre Works is bringing Katori Hall’s “The Mountaintop” to Miami for the Performing Arts Series. This performance is a part of Miami’s global initiative to generate dialogue on diversity and inclusion on campus.
Recipient of the Olivier Award for Best New Play, “The Mountaintop” is a fictional two-person play focusing on what life was like for King on the eve of his assassination. The play takes the audience on an emotional journey, and, as L.A. Theatre Works executive director Susan Loewenberg said, it “is leavened with great humor and a real sense of humanity.”
“The abiding principle,” said Loewenberg, referring to L.A. Theatre Works’ mission, “has been using theatre in a variety of ways to contribute to making people’s lives richer and helping people become more informed and engaged because good theatre makes you think. It challenges you. It sometimes breaks your heart, makes you smile; it is a compelling art form.”
The Performing Arts Series at Miami shares the basic ideals of this mission with its own mission, which is to change lives through the performing arts. Executive director Patti Liberatore has brought in L.A. Theatre Works in the past, and is continually impressed with their work.
“We know we’re gonna get good theatre,” Liberatore said. “They also frequently pick titles to tour that are very meaty, issue-driven theatre pieces. It’s great for us to have that opportunity to bring them here and have something onstage that addresses a topic that is important from an educational perspective.”
As compelling an art form as theatre may be, Department of Theatre chair Julia Guichard noted that here at Miami, it is hard to get people to come to events like these.
“Frankly, the arts are not that visible on this campus,” said Guichard. “The arts can contribute to these conversations in ways that are unique.”
The Performing Arts Series and Miami’s Department of Theatre both work to carry out the vision set by President Crawford, which includes a pillar of diversity and inclusion. Miami’s Diversity Inclusion Statement, headed by President Crawford, can be found at http://miamioh.edu/diversity-inclusion/about/statement/index.html.
“Often efforts the university is making don’t get talked about,” said Guichard. “I understand, because when there is a problem, we need to address it. [The Diversity Inclusion Statement] is woven throughout everything on campus.”
One way that the Department of Theatre has been a part of this ongoing effort was to include “We Are Proud to Present…” in its production season, which happened to be scheduled for the same weekend as “The Mountaintop.” Due to this conflict, the “We Are Proud to Present…” Thursday show has been moved to a Saturday matinee and the cast, crew and production team will instead be going to support “The Mountaintop.”
Guichard said that, because of the overlapping themes of diversity and representation of people of color onstage, the conjunction of the two performances in one weekend will help to shine a light on these perspectives, and hopefully the conversation on diversity and inclusion will be carried into classrooms.
“This is an efficient way to learn about a piece of history,” said Liberatore. “And it is entertaining to learn it that way. It will inevitably make you think about issues or see the world differently.”
“We Are Proud to Present…” director Torie Wiggins is a professional actor who actually played the role of Camae in “The Mountaintop” at Cincinnati’s Ensemble Theatre in 2014. Wiggins said that “The Mountaintop” is one of her favorite plays and that the first time she read it she was moved to tears.
“With such iconic events in history you can’t help but wonder, ‘what did it feel like?’” Wiggins said. “It was just so moving, and the way this particular playwright fantasizes what happened is surreal.”
Guichard hopes that the weekend will leave audience members with two important questions:
“Do you see yourself represented on this campus?” and “Is there programming on campus that shows me my voice is important?”
“The Mountaintop” is currently on a national tour, and will play in over 40 cities, big and small.
“For us that’s really what matters,” said Loewenberg. “We’re bringing it to places that might not ordinarily see the play. Going around the United States with this play has been a gratifying experience, and watching people watch the play and their response to it is just extraordinary. That’s why we do it.”
L.A. Theatre Works’ production of “The Mountaintop” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on March 8 at Hall Auditorium.