“SLAB” Staged Reading – Students Contribute to Work in Progress

Renny Acheson, Staff Reporter

On Thursday, Sep. 13, students and faculty gathered in the Freimann Studio Theatre for the opportunity to help a unique piece of art develop in form and production.

“SLAB,” a play co-written by visiting theatre professor Emily K. Harrison and Gleason Bauer, finds its roots in the novel of the same name by American author Selah Saterstrom. Based in Boulder, CO, Harrison was asked by Saterstrom herself to adapt the work into a theatrical form. Harrison and Bauer worked for 4 years between Boulder and Los Angeles to create the work, which premiered in 2014. However, the show still remains incomplete in many ways.

“It’s a show that we don’t feel is finished. We want to keep developing it,” Harrison said.

“SLAB” follows the story of Tiger, an ex-sex worker living in a small Mississippi town that experienced the devastation of Hurricane Katrina the hardest. Inspired by the life events of Saterstrom in Waveland, MS, Tiger waits on the slab where her house used to stand to be rescued. The story represents the transition between life and death, disaster and time.

Harrison notes how the play is unconventional, so she focuses on the stories and characters instead of the overall narrative arc.

“Her stories, and the story of her stories, are more important than the plot. Character is more important in this piece than plot,” Harrison said of Tiger.

The work features an array of characters with magical realistic elements, such as a preacher who resurrects a dead seagull, a mother who transforms into Barbara Walters, and a narrator who takes the perspective of the storm. But even with the surrealistic aspects, the show touches on various practical subjects.

“I feel as though this play can touch upon things such as environmental racism,” first-year participant in the reading Gareth Dawkins said. Other themes highlighted in “SLAB” include poverty, sexism and governmental response to natural disasters.

Along with featuring prevalent social and political themes, “SLAB” follows a cast of developed characters. “I think everyone can relate to these stories of devastation and disaster in some way, even on smaller scales,” Harrison said.

First-year reading participant Rachael Zucker agreed with Harrison’s notion. “I kind of felt a connection to Tiger, not like that has ever happened to me, but just that place of what now?” Zucker said.

In the intimate space of the black box in Harper Joy Theater, a cast of five, including Harrison reading Tiger, performed the first ten pages of “SLAB” for a small audience. Afterward, audience members asked questions to clarify or suggest moments of intrigue. The event represented an interesting moment in the play’s development, as it is well-formed but unfinished.

Harrison expresses her hopes for the play’s impact: “I’m interested in hearing it out loud again and seeing what people think,” she said.

Ultimately, the play represents the theatrical process as a whole. When the play finally premieres on a larger stage, Whitman students will recognize that they had a vital role in its development.