NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – This interterm, our Bethel College Studies in Drama class spent several days in Chicago, where we watched several plays and had some cross-cultural experiences.
We spent the first two-and-a-half weeks of interterm on campus reading plays that address social issues and concerns. Then we took the train to and from Chicago. This was an interesting experience but likely would have been much more pleasant if the train didn’t leave from and arrive in Newton at 3 a.m. and the trip wasn’t 12 hours.
We stayed at the Chicago Center’s building, called “The Boulevard,” located in Hyde Park only a few blocks away from public transit, a number of restaurants and President Obama’s house.
In Chicago, we attended three plays and visited organizations around the city that addressed the same or similar issues as the plays. Our first night in Chicago, we saw Seven Guitars by August Wilson, which dealt with poverty and discrimination in 1948 Pittsburgh.
The second play we saw was A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, by Peter Nichols. Set in the 1960s, it is about the strain put on two parents as they try to raise their daughter, who has cerebral palsy and is completely nonresponsive. Joe Egg is a fictional persona the characters use to describe boredom or laziness.
To prepare to see this play, we went to Access Living, an organization that helps the disabled to be able to live individual and satisfying lives outside institutions. Nearly 80 percent of Access Living clients are disabled.
Their building was constructed using green and universal design, which incorporates aesthetically pleasing and completely accessible features. For example, elevators open on both sides so people in wheelchairs don’t have to turn around or back out.
Other features are smaller, such as the carpet being textured enough for walkers but smooth enough for wheelchairs, or putting the glass on the balcony on the inside so that people with canes don’t get them caught in the small gap. It was a really cool place.
The last play we saw was The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman, set in the 1930s. Martha Dobie and Karen Wright run a boarding school. An angry student with some major issues runs away and, in order to avoid being sent back, tells her grandmother that the two headmistresses are having an affair.
This lie grows and destroys the two women’s careers, lives and relationships. Before we saw the play, we talked with the director, David Zak, about LGBT issues in Chicago and in the theater world.
We had talk-backs with directors and cast members after all of the plays, which were great and very insightful.
On our Saturday in Chicago, we went to the morning service at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, Jesse Jackson’s activist organization (founded before the rainbow became an LGBT symbol). This was a mix between a church service and a righteous demand for money or events support.
On the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Jan. 20, we went to the Museum of African American History to hear a reading of The Meeting, which depicts a fictional meeting between Malcolm X and Dr. King. But because we arrived very late, all we were experienced was the last 10 minutes of the play and a fender-bender in the museum parking lot.
Other highlights of our time in Chicago were a walking tour (cut short due to the extreme cold) of murals in the Pilsen neighborhood; visiting the Up Comedy Club, where many comedians from Saturday Night Live got their start; the anniversary celebration for LYRIC Squad, a hip-hop and spoken-word group; a driving tour of one neighborhood where African Americans are explicitly told they can’t buy property and another where the police tell white people to leave because “it isn’t safe”; finding the Sears Tower/Willis Tower (it’s the one that looks like a Taser); eating Chicago-style pizza (not as life-changing as we were led to believe); and trying out new restaurants. I found the abundance of order-in food options a novel experience.
While I’m not sure we ever felt discriminated against, I know that at times we were aware of our whiteness as a group in a way we never had been in rural/small-town Kansas.