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Div III: ‘'The Play'’ Mixes Poetry and Street Life

Friday, March 19, 2010

A trip to nearby Northampton is often just part of Hampshire life. In Ekiwah Adler-Belendez 08F and Greg Josselyn 07F's collaborative Division III (senior) production, entitled simply The Play, it was a journey that the two explored to deeper cathartic effect.

The Play
"One thing that propelled me to go to Northampton was the opportunity to move around in a wheelchair-accessible town," says Adler-Belendez, an accomplished poet whose foray into the theatre was largely sparked by watching Josselyn's production of Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House this past fall.

Adler-Belendez, who was born with cerebral palsy and has always used a wheelchair, says his hometown of Amatlan in Mexico is far more difficult to navigate than the somewhat friendlier streets of Northampton. But challenges remain, among them building a sense of acceptance and belonging that would allow him to feel as much a part of the community here as he did in Mexico.

"I've only fairly recently started heading out. It's exciting, because both in real life and the play, it's about transformation," he says.

Adler-Belendez watched The Clean House eight times, and eventually struck up a friendship with Josselyn.

"We talked about the idea of combining poetry with everyday, normal, hyper-realistic situations, a mix of poetry and street life, if that makes sense," says Josselyn, who directs as well as co-stars with Adler-Belendez. "So we decided to collaborate and write the play together."

The piece attempts to present the regular needs and desires of a person who happens to use a wheelchair, while attacking associated cultural taboos. Interviews with random people met on the street, interspersed with poetry, form the framework of The Play, a name chosen because of the way their lives were enfolded into the mix of reality and drama.

"We started to feel ourselves becoming characters in it. It's been a very surreal process in that way," says Adler-Belendez, who interacts with street performers, a 96-year-old political activist, the poet laureate of Northampton, and others who make indelible impacts both on his life and the trajectory of the play. "They had fascinating things to say."

Ekiwah Adler-Belendez
For Josselyn, who rarely spoke while documenting the interviews in order to serve as an "objective audience" to the unfolding story, it was a completely new approach to drama.

Adler-Belendez's friend, Mexican film director Elisa Miller (whose short Ver Llover won the 2007 Cannes Film Festival's Palme D'Or) recorded the performance on March 27, 2010, and may produce a film that will bring the poetic drama to an even larger audience.

Adler-Belendez's Div III Faculty Committee:theatre professors Ellen Donkin and Talya Kingston and writing program co-director Deborah Gorlin.

Josselyn's Div III Faculty Committee: theatre professors Djola Branner and Talya Kingston.


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