Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Students Give Thanks for The Thanksgiving Play

Poster contributed by Harper Joy Theatre

That is our play,” declares Paige Yanny. Dressed as a high school drama teacher, Yanny turns to Jack Moffett, Sophia Mathieu-Bravo and Benny Vasconcelos. Students performed “The Thanksgiving Play” at the Harper-Joy Theater last weekend with director and guest professor Tracy Ward. The play follows a group of ‘woke’ drama teachers, an LA actress and an elementary school history teacher as they work to create a thanksgiving play that pays respect to Indigenous people.

As the group of white educators struggle to assemble a politically correct play, their actions highlight contemporary concerns about narrating history. More than just providing an hour and 20 minutes of laughter and giggles from the crowd, though, Tracy Ward brought to life Larissa FastHorse’s satire for the Whitman community.

For Whitman, the play and its satirical message match the hyper-wokeness which students both embody and address via clubs, symposiums and social media posts. The play engages with student interests in hearing Indigenous voices and synthesizes hot button controversies like the narratives that are selected as presentable. As such, “The Thanksgiving Play” immediately gained interest when presented last spring by the theater department’s selection committee as a part of the 2023 season. Avery Ehlers, a junior prop designer and set dresser, reflected on the theater department’s selection process and explained how the play seemed like a solid match for campus interests and awareness of the current political landscape.

“The committee read over 50 plays [last Spring] and “The Thanksgiving Play” was the only one to receive a 5/5 from everyone on the committee. After faculty approved of the choice, the play was officially announced as the second show in the 2023-24 season,” Ehlers said.

Junior Ana Dillard, who worked in the costume department for “The Thanksgiving Play,” noted the play’s relationship with campus culture at Whitman.

“It’s definitely applicable to Whitman, it’s very relevant and contemporary. There are a lot of conversations at Whitman about how we can advocate for people. I think the priority is to uplift voices and that’s what the play really talks about. [It’s about] uplifting voices instead of speaking for people — a part that felt pretty relevant to Whitman,” Dillard said.

With a high approval rate, the stage was set for “The Thanksgiving Play” and students prepared for the political commentary of the season. Several students appreciated the satirical humor imbued in the play, including first-year Maggie Rietze, who attended a showing last weekend.

“I really enjoyed the play. With having prior knowledge of the content and characters of the play, the actors and setting exceeded my expectations. Laughing among the audience was really enjoyable,” Rietze said.

For Rietze, “The Thanksgiving Play” combined comedy and academic commentary. In other words, it fit widely accepted academic discourse on Whitman’s campus.

“I read the script of the play before attending the performance for my GENS class on storytelling. I discussed the play and the author with my classmates the day before watching the performance and predicted how some elements of the play would be portrayed,” Rietze said.

Not only did the play offer laughter and a fun night out, but it also tied into her coursework, allowing for a more complex and nuanced appreciation of what it means to be politically correct and to uplift non-white voices.

Thanks to “The Thanksgiving Play,” faculty and students critically engaged in conversations about storytelling, the college’s role as a listening institution and the actions we could (or definitely should not) take to maintain a sense of political correctness.

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