Over the past few months, students and faculty of the Brooklyn College History Department have been developing “The 2020 Theater Project,” a project that combines oral history and verbatim theater in an effort to tell the stories of people in the Brooklyn College community from this past year.
The plan is for the project to debut at Brooklyn College’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Student Work Expo on Apr. 26 and 27.
Initially, the goal was to produce a “documentary theater play” that would be the culmination of collected transcripts from interviews throughout the community. While this still remains a possibility, the plan has shifted into what will be a presentation of a series of monologues from the project, as well as a conversation about them from the project’s team.
The team consists of students Carina D’Urso, Brie Underwood, Emily Beregovich, Iqura Naheed, and Lia Hauser, who are developing the project alongside Prof. Philip Napoli, the Department Chairperson, and Prof. Lauren Mancia, an Assistant Professor in the History Department.
“We’re always living through history. 2020, as horrible as it has been, is interesting because, in its intensity, we have actually become quite aware of how much history we’re living through,” Mancia, who has a background in theater, told the Vanguard. “Our project has worked to help collect stories of 2020 from the BC community, and therefore has worked to help fill the archive of 2020’s events for future historians.”
With that, the project’s mission is to not only present these stories to an audience but to further preserve the oral history of the BC Community for generations to come.
“Our project is reflective in nature and will focus on the realities, realizations, and revelations that occurred for many during 2020,” D’Urso said. “Our goal is to uplift these stories through Verbatim Theater, a form of documentary theater in which material is derived from the exact words of people.”
For D’Urso, her involvement in the project stems from her time as a student of Prof. Napoli in a seminar course during the Spring 2019 semester.
“My classmates and I kept in touch, and we met with him often, even after our class ended,” said D’Urso. “Since Professor Napoli’s area of focus is oral history, we felt compelled to conduct interviews with those around us, focusing on experiences of 2020…and we began studying the concept of Verbatim Theater together.”
Over the last five months, the team has conducted interviews with various students, professors, and colleagues of the BC community in an attempt to use their voices and adapt them for a theatrical work.
“By transforming these stories into theater, we’re helping to elevate the ideas, accounts, and revelations of everyday people so that we can create the distance to appreciate the pain, beauty, and historicity of these stories,” Mancia added in an email. “We’re having interesting conversations interpreting these stories, both reflecting on ‘what happened’ in 2020, and on how we can interpret (intellectually, emotionally, and artistically) what happened in 2020, so that we can make meaning out of what we’ve all experienced.”
Currently, the team is still looking for people to interview for the project, as well as actors who would be interested in performing the monologues from the interviews they have conducted.
“As we reflect on 2020 retrospectively, this experience has been extremely cathartic, and it has been moving to hear the stories of so many members of the Brooklyn College community. It has allowed us to truly take the time to truly listen to one another, growing more connected as a result,” said D’Urso. “We hope our work will inspire you to encounter the stories of those you love, know, and meet, at Brooklyn College, and beyond.”