Introducing New Artistic Director Moriah Flagler

Moriah Flagler, Artistic Director, Be the Street

We are very excited to announce that Moriah Flagler is joining Be the Street as Artistic Director for 2018-2020. Here, she answers a few questions about herself and her background. Please welcome Moriah to our team!!

Q: Could you talk a little bit about your background and how you became interested in devising?

A: I think it all started when I went to a new high school where I didn’t know anyone. I was sitting in homeroom and heard an announcement on the loudspeaker that there would be a meeting for an improvisation club at lunch. I didn’t really know what improv was, but thought it would be a good solution to eating lunch alone. Fast forwarding through high school, I eventually became the vice president of the group and a member of a local Tucson improv troupe. I didn’t know it then, but improvisation and devising are closely linked. In improv, I learned how to really listen to my collaborators and how to build on what they offered me and the project.  I learned how to support my teammates and how to trust that they had my back. I learned how to be flexible and respond in the moment as goals or tactics shifted. Most of all, I learned how important authenticity is onstage and off. Devising with a group is very much about collaboration… to make something together that exists because of the folks in the room. The process and the product would not exist without them. To me, this is a work of presence and generosity.

Much of my current devising work focuses on engaging across difference.  Before beginning graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin, I lived in Quepos, Costa Rica for two years. There, I taught English, started an improv troupe with teens at the local theatre, and partnered with applied theatre facilitators doing work in youth development.  My experience living and working closely with members of the community in Quepos, deeply instilled my belief that people of different cultures and backgrounds hold a wealth of knowledge and skills that an outsider may not recognize unless they are willing and ready to make the familiar strange and really listen. In my devising work, I strive to create a space in which participants both recognize and share their community cultural wealth (skills and knowledges from their communities) with each other and their intended audiences.

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Q: What are some projects that you worked on recently that really excited you?

A: The work I do as an applied theatre facilitator focuses on sharing and listening to personal stories, with the goal of centering voices that the dominant culture often does not value. My work in this area includes interview-based ethnographic theatre, interactive audio installations, and digital storytelling with young people.

During my time as a graduate student in UT Austin’s Drama and Theatre for Youth and Communities program, I mentored and co-facilitated a devised ethnographic theatre piece, called Work, with director Matthew Hernandez and an undergraduate ensemble. Work was presented in the Cohen New Works Festival 2017. The ethnographic theatre piece combined audio interviews and devised movement with the hopes of creating connections between students and the custodial workers who care for the environments in which we learn and work.

In another project, Patchwork Stories, at the University of Exeter, UK, I collaboratively created an interactive installation with the goal of sharing the wisdom of those we live and walk amongst in times of challenge and change. As a member of the ensemble, I gathered and curated stories from the community members in the Exeter Drug Project and guided over 50 visitors through the installation.

To listen to my audio: https://tinyurl.com/jat4rmw, Select “Fix Your Gaze” #3.

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I’m as much a classroom teacher as I am a theatre maker; because of this, my most recent project explored how I could use applied theatre in my work as a teacher of non-arts content, and specifically in a middle school Spanish for Spanish Speakers class. I wondered how using applied theatre practices in this specific context might offer a way for young people and their teachers to build authentic relationships that focused on students’ assets and elevated their lived experiences or community cultural wealth in the classroom. During my residency, the young people engaged in drama, oral storytelling, and writing activities around the themes of community, family, and what we learn from these communities that help us navigate life.  All of this lead to them creating group digital stories in iMovie that they shared with invited friends and family.

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Q: What ideas or practices are you most anxious to explore as you get to know Columbus communities and students at Ohio State?

A: I am so excited to connect with students and community members — to see what they’re excited about, to hear their stories, and to create with them.  I’m very much looking forward to exploring how storytelling and activism can be linked in Columbus and what this can look like in terms of the work we do together.


Moriah Flagler is a teacher, theatre maker, and scholar. Her research focuses on community-based devising, applied improvisation, and digital storytelling. Her recent scholarship examines how devising digital stories with middle school aged Spanish speakers foregrounded their community cultural wealth in a schooling system that often strips Latinx youth of their languages and cultures through subtractive assimilation.

Moriah holds a Master of Fine Arts in Drama and Theatre for Youth and Communities from The University of Texas at Austin and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre Education from The University of Arizona. She is excited to join the OSU Be the Street team as Artistic Director and to continue to explore the intersections of place, identity, connection, story, and social justice.

Moriah Flagler, Artistic Director, Be the Street

Be the Street in The Lantern

Scott Good profiled Be the Street in anticipation of our open rehearsal and workshops on May 5, and final performance May 6. See his article, “‘Be the Street’ project tells stories from the Hilltop,” in The Lantern.

image of Hilltop murals for printed program

Image designed by Tan Nguyen

El Centro Guadalupe en Third Way Cafe

Alegría, soledad, comunidad, esperanza, encerramiento, llegada, y alma, son algunas de las palabras que el grupo de Our Lady of Guadalupe Center, o centro Guadalupe, usa para describir sus experiencias en Columbus en general, pero también dentro del centro. Las mujeres y Jesús—el único participante hombre que ha estado con nosotras desde el comienzo—nos han permitido, con brazos abiertos, experimentar la bienvenida que ellas y él han recibido desde el primer día que llegaron al centro y desde el primer día en que nosotras llegamos a aprender, experimentar, y escuchar sus historias de fortaleza, perseverancia y esperanza.

Participantes en el centro Guadalupe.

En cada sesión hemos sido testigas de la capacidad de aceptación y amor que el grupo nos brinda a través de su atención a nuestras instrucciones y la disposición de dejar las inhibiciones a un lado para poder crear juntas y en convivencia. Como parte de la preparación de los talleres y ensayos, usamos las historias orales de dos miembros importantes de esta organización, Alma Santos y Ramona Reyes. Alma y su madre fueron las fundadoras del centro ya que, por sus propias experiencias de visitar y recibir ayuda de despensas de comida como esta, sabían que era importante reciprocar lo que tan generosamente habían recibido. Su misión fue y es proveer ayuda a la comunidad latina de Columbus, pero, ante todo, hacerlo de una manera que mantenga intacta el valor y la dignidad de cada persona que visita el centro. Por otra parte, Reyes, la directora actual, cuenta de su propia conexión con la comida a través de la agricultura. Ramona es hija de padres agricultores y tanto ella como sus hermanos iban a la ‘pisca’ de tomates en los veranos. Unos años más tarde, Ramona recibió la beca de Campbell soup, la cual fue creada para hijos de trabajadores agricultores migrantes. Ambas mujeres tienen una conexión fuerte con la producción, consumo y, en ocasiones, la falta de comida en diferentes etapas de su vida.

Helena y Atzin participan en un ensayo en el Third Way Cafe

Con las historias de Alma y Ramona como punto de partida, el grupo crea cuadros representativos de sus experiencias individuales en conjunto. Las memorias, los sentidos, y las melodías de cada uno de los miembros del grupo es palpable y la armonía que surge al trabajar juntas es muestra de que existe el respeto y reconocimiento del otro/a. En nuestra primera semana en Third Way Café, donde tendremos el performance final, el grupo del Centro Guadalupe nos demostró que la comunidad que han cultivado allí transciende el espacio en el que se reúnen, ya que el compañerismo y la confianza que existe entre ellas y él continuó sin interrupciones en este nuevo espacio.

Participantes del centro, docentes y estudiantes de OSU, y representantes de Albany Park Theater Project en el Third Way Cafe

 

Scaffolding Story: Becoming Devisers

Participants at OSU Be the Street January 2018 APTP Workshop in a game of Yes!

Be the Street welcomed Albany Park Theater Project a second time over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend. Producing Artistic Director David Feiner, Associate Director Maggie Popadiak, and Resident Director Stephanie Paul guided the core Be the Street team of faculty and graduate students, as well as several newcomers, through exercises in theatrical devising. They were joined by APTP ensemble members Dayana Soto and Ashlie Hankins, and alum Maidenwena Alba, who is in her freshman year at Columbia College in Chicago.

Whereas our August 2017 workshop had focused on using games to build ensemble, this time we focused on using those games and developing other exercises to begin crafting–or devising–scenes. Unlike traditional stage-based theater and dance practices, where performers follow a script or a set choreography, in devising, the members of the ensemble generate the performance material. This process allows the strengths of each participant to shine through. It also enables a more direct and timely response to the issues and concerns facing particular communities. For Be the Street, we are interested in how residents in the Hilltop neighborhood of Columbus, OH make a home for themselves, whether they are long-time community members or more recent arrivals to the area.

For this workshop, we revisited some familiar games–Mingle Mingle, Cross the Line, Yes!–as well as some ensemble-building exercises like the I Come From circle. New games included Silent Me, in which participants exchange places in a circle after making eye contact (it’s harder than it sounds!), and Soul Train Remix, in which pairs travel down a “Soul Train Line” while one half of the pair generates a soundscape to which the other half of the pair responds in movement. Another new exercise was 5x5x5, for which each of us thought of a task or chore, which we broke into 5 separate steps or gestures, and then performed it three times, with each execution increasing in size. (Sunday morning was Starbucks-themed, so these sizes were labeled tall, grande, and venti. A later fourth size was added to conclude the exercise, which Maggie called cortado.)

photo of participants walking with arms raised.

Participants at OSU Be the Street January 2018 APTP Workshop in a game of Yes!

Monday we spent more time with games that can be done in small groups, like Music & Lyrics, in which some participants read, sing, or recite lyrics to a song (the Internet is a huge help for this), while other participants respond to the lyrics with movement, and Story Fight, a high-octane form of simultaneous story-telling in which pairs face-off and try to outwit their storytelling opponent and get them to stop their own story in order to listen. This game can also be played with a “referee” who tries to listen to both stories as they are simultaneously recounted, and then tries to re-tell both stories. Verbatim and Mind-Meld are also played in pairs. For Verbatim, one person tells a story (our prompt was about a moment when we felt threatened), and their partner shares in the story by trying to both speak the storyteller’s words as they are being spoken, as well as to mirror the storyteller’s gestures and expressions. This exercise requires incredible attention and empathy. Mind-Meld is more light-hearted; after counting themselves in–1, 2, 3–each member of a pair shouts out a word at the same time. This process repeats–count in, offer a word–with each participant trying to verbalize the common ground between their terms until finally both members of the pair shout the same word. This game is as gratifying as it is silly. We also played the death-defying game Hot Chocolate River, in which a group crosses a “bridge” of chairs, with the caveat that each chair must have at least one person on it or it floats away, making the group crossing more and more treacherous. Advanced versions of the game add burdens and tasks such as blindfolding some of the participants, restricting the movements of others (for example by tying their shoes together), or carrying heavy loads.

photo of participants walking and crawling across a bridge of chairs

Participants at OSU Be the Street January 2018 APTP Workshop in Hot Chocolate River

These games were all fun and an important part of the continuous work of building an ensemble, without which devising could not proceed! But the bulk of the workshop focused on giving devisers more tools to work with their ensembles. We especially focused on analyzing transcripts from interviews conducted with Hilltop community members, developing and teaching exercises to support creative exploration, and learning how to structure workshops so that they would build toward a desired outcome. APTP challenged us to consider not only the content (what do you do?) and structure (in what order?) of the workshops, but also the specific people who are in our ensembles (what do they respond to? what do they bring? what boundaries or constraints do we need to anticipate and respect?).

Interviews and interview transcripts provide the foundation for APTP’s own creative process, and we spent a lot of our time together pouring over interviews conducted by Be the Street faculty in anticipation of this workshop. Such interviews support devising by offering concrete details of people’s experiences, providing a rich layer of descriptive detail to work with rather than generalizations. In analyzing these transcripts, we pulled out themes that emerged, images the speakers evoked, and turns of phrase or uses of language that caught our attention. We also assessed the theatrical opportunities and challenges in each transcript, which led to important conversations about how to represent experiences ethically. David reminded us that at APTP, they aren’t engaged in documentary theater; they aren’t looking to portray people’s stories as they were told. Instead, they aim to recreate how they felt when they heard these stories, and to share that feeling with audiences.

We are very much looking forward to our final workshop in March!!

large post-it notes on a window

An interview transcript broken down and analyzed during the OSU Be the Street January 2018 APTP Workshop.