During the week of September 2, Hope College’s Theatre Department was lucky enough to host playwright Arlene Hutton as she worked on her new play, The Shakers of Mount Lebanon Will Hold A Peace Conference This Month. Hope College has committed to staging a production of the play, opening on November 15. Our Theatre Department is a member of the Big Bridge Consortium, providing us the opportunity to work on new plays, such as The Shakers. The Big Bridge Consortium is a group of twelve colleges that have commissioned three playwrights to each create one play focused on peace and faith. Arlene’s play is the first of the three to be written.
Arlene Hutton’s residency was a completely new theatre experience for me. I, like many of the other students involved, have never been in a room with a playwright actively revising the play we’re preparing to create. After each rehearsal and read -through, Arlene provided an opportunity for the actors to express their thoughts, letting the group be vocal about what they liked and what they were confused about. It demonstrated her willingness to listen and work with us theatre students. She listened to the ideas presented and took each into consideration, letting the conversation flow as a respectful group discussion when trying to decide whether or not to make a change. One of the key phrases Arlene asked the group to frame their thinking around was “What if?” This phrase places people in a more open mindset, allowing themselves to think about the possibilities of a script or a change and not focus on a negative “I don’t like” statement, which ultimately adds nothing constructive to the script writing process.
I was also fortunate enough to be a part of a production meeting Arlene attended. Her knowledge of Shaker history was astonishing. While we were examining photos of Shakers from the play’s time period, Arlene named nearly every Shaker pictured, while also knowing their general role in the community, too. Additionally, she shared a wealth of information on the clothing the Shakers wore, indicating her devotion to sharing her play’s historical world.
On Saturday, the last day of Arlene’s stay at Hope, the cast spent the last half hour of rehearsal asking questions about her profession. We learned a lot about her varied career in the theatre, having worked as a playwright, a dresser for Saturday Night Live, an actor, and a house manager. She taught us that if someone is truly invested in working in the theatre world, it doesn’t matter what role they take in it; they will find fulfillment in the joy of creating meaningful art. Over Arlene Hutton’s weeklong residency at Hope College, she deeply impacted each one of us working on the production, and left us with a wonderful play to produce.
Caroline Dargay ‘22