As the actors made final notes in their scripts and gathered their costumes, Jonathan Tazewell ’84, Thomas S. Turgeon professor of drama, chatted with the crew about the show, K-pop and comps. Tazewell is both directing and acting in Baltimore by Kirsten Greenidge, and this was their first dress rehearsal of the Kenyon Department of Dance, Drama and Film’s staged reading. For a first rehearsal, everyone seemed collected, ready to transport the audience to a setting and situation familiar to the Hill.
Baltimore focuses on the aftermath of racist graffiti on a college campus, following the reactions of the student body and administrators as they grapple with the implications of the event. The production hopes to both respond to the racial aggressions that have come to light on campus, and to replace the production of The Good Samaritan by James Michael Playwright-in-Residence and Professor of Drama Wendy Macleod ’81, according to an email sent to the student body by Tazewell. The Good Samaritan which was canceled due to multiple insensitivities, particularly its use of stereotypes of Latinx people.
This sudden change in the theater season gave little time for the ten actors and two crew members to prepare for a performance, with only three weeks, not including spring break. Full production usually requires months. But as the actors took the stage, it was impossible to tell the group had not been alloted the usual preparation: The performance was poignant, and the message powerful.
The absence of scenery or staging took nothing from the emotion and depth of the story, which is mostly built through conversations as the characters explore when humor turns to hate; how our generation defines race and its history; and who holds responsibility for addressing bigotry, especially in small communities. Afterward, Associate Provost for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and Professor of English Ted Mason, Associate Professor of English Ivonne García, Deputy Title IX/Civil Rights Coordinator Linda Smolak, Civil Rights/Title IX Coordinator Samantha Hughes, Tazewell and other members of the cast will hold a discussion to address these issues.
Tazewell, who had considered bringing Baltimore to Kenyon for some time, knew this was the perfect moment to produce the play. “I felt very strongly, and so did some of my other colleagues, that we needed to say something, that we needed to make a statement about how we felt about what was happening,” Tazewell said. “We needed to respond to the community, to the pain that we feel and felt … and we needed to be able to continue the dialogue with the community.” Tazewell hopes that this production will give courage to those who need to express their pain, and to make every member of the Kenyon community aware that we are all responsible and complicit in causing the pain of marginalized individuals.
“We have to have these dialogues, we have to understand why we might have hurt someone we didn’t intend to hurt, we have to respond when people ask us for help and not hide from our human responsibility — not just our official responsibility — but our human responsibility,” he said.
Baltimore will be read on Friday, April 6, and Saturday, April 7, at 8 p.m. at the Bolton Theater.