Kind Ness ensemble cast collaborates, prompts discussion on diversity

Taneeka Hansen

This weekend, Harper Joy Theater will explore the relationships of a group of students, one of whom happens to be a gorilla, in a production of Ping Chong’s “Kind Ness”.

The actors dance during a prom scene. 'Kind Ness,' the final show to be performed on Harper Joy's mainstage this spring due to renovation construction, relies heavily upon student collaboration and improvisation. Credit: Ben Lerchin

The play, written in 1986, was originally a collaborative effort between Chong and his company, and was almost completely generated in rehearsal. The Whitman cast, all juniors and seniors, continued that collaborative spirit in their rehearsals.

“Improvising was something that was different for me, not just physically, but also actually improvising lines in a few of the scenes,” said senior Anastasia Higham, who plays Dot. “And that was kind of scary, but seeing other people rise to it … and seeing it be successful helped in the process a lot.”

Credit: Ben Lerchin

“It’s been a very challenging play for me to work on,” said senior theater major Trevor Cushman. “Not much of who the characters are necessarily comes out in the text, and so a lot of the work I’ve been having to do in terms of finding out who my character is I’ve had to do in rehearsal, and I’ve had to rely on just purely … my creative intuition.”

“Kind Ness” is Cushman’s senior project; he is keeping a rehearsal journal, and after the production he will write a paper and have an oral defense of his project.

“I’m trying to make this, in a way, the capstone of my development as an actor and as an artist here at Whitman, and use it as a springboard to really discover what my process is,” said Cushman. “[But] my character is not a central character in the play, so I need to strike a balance between trying to make my performance as interesting and engaging as possible [in] an effort to challenge myself in my creative capacities, but at the same time I don’t want to upstage the people [whom] the play is really about.”

Credit: Ben Lerchin

Senior Erin Terrall, the play’s sound designer and technician, is also using “Kind Ness” to complete his senior project. This is Terrall’s thirteenth Harper Joy production as either an actor or a sound designer.

“I’ve become a sound guy at heart,” said Terrall.   “I get stressed out by the late nights in the theater, but it’s really nice to have the building by myself, to have quiet and just sit and listen to my equipment for a while.”

“The sound design is super cool, and there’s a lot of challenges in it,” said Anastasia Higham. “It really adds to the production; there’s music underscoring a lot of the scenes.”

When asked about the core of the show, all three seniors pointed to its exploration of diversity and otherness.

“I think the play is basically about the way we categorize people, and that relates in some very apparent ways to class and gender and race,” said Cushman.   “This play not only scratches at those issues some but also [transcends them] … and just looks at it as a more general cultural habit.”

“Chris [Petit, the play’s director] talked about that it’s important to realize why we are doing this in the Whitman community,” said Higham.   “[It explores] the idea of diversity, which is a big buzzword at Whitman … Otherness is really interesting in a Whitman context.”

Credit: Ben Lerchin

Higham associated the play’s success at tackling these themes with its being an ensemble play.

“It’s my last play [at Whitman], which is kind of sad, but it’s also the perfect last play, I think, because it’s such an ensemble piece,” said Higham. “This kind of theater … asks hard questions but is also whimsical and beautiful and ridiculous and fun. It is something that I’m really proud our theater does, and I think it’s an example of the best kind of work we do here.”

“Kind Ness” runs from March 3 to 6 on the Alexander main stage. The shows will start at 8 p.m. except for Sunday, which will start at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the box office, located in the Harper Joy lobby.