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Playwright joins workshop at GFU dedicated to writing and producing plays that engage issues of peace and interfaith dialogue

GARY ALLEN - Actors gathered on the stage at Wood-Mar Theater for a script reading in mid-June following a workshop.

BY JACKS WHITEHURST

Newberg Graphic Intern

In mid-June the Big Bridge Theatre Consortium invited playwright Arlene Hutton to George Fox University to guide a group of local actors, professional artists and student interns through a week of workshopping as part of a multi-year production program.

The consortium is a group of 12 schools throughout the country dedicated to writing and producing plays that engage issues of peace and interfaith dialogue. Two years ago consortium founder Rhett Luedtke, a theater professor at GFU, had a vision for the project and acted on it right away.

"I had the idea and it got approved by the dean of the college of arts and sciences and the provost here at Fox," Luedtke said in a phone interview. "Year one (two years ago) was about contacting schools across the country to see who would be willing to join me."

Carroll College, Earlham College, Gonzaga University, Hope College, North Park University, Point Loma Nazarene University, Samford University, Seattle Pacific University, Sioux Falls University, University of Notre Dame and the University of Portland comprise the consortium today.

The 12 schools together voted to commission Hutton for the production and by the time the workshop rolled around in June she had already been working on the play for one full year. Ten professional actors from the Portland area joined seven GFU interns – including assistant to the director Audrey O'Farrell, assistant dramaturgs (literary advisor or editor) Chloe Dawson and Hope Bellinger, actors Reid Arthur and Sarah Aldrich, assistant to the playwright Hannah Strawn and assistant stage manager Heather Nunn -- met for four hours every day of the workshop. Director Marianne Savell from Seattle, dramaturg Jessica Dart, Luedtke serving as artistic director and playwright Arlene Hutton guided the actors through the script, asking key questions along the way.

The play the group workshopped was one written to highlight the peaceful, historical tradition of a lesser-known branch of Christianity, the Shakers. Tied to the 18th century roots of Quakerism in England, the largely pacifist and liberal-minded group began settling in colonial America in 1861 near Mount Lebanon, New York.

Based on a documented event from 1905, the play is about the women in a northern family of the Shaker community in Mount Pleasant, New York, that hold an international peace conference in their village. "The Shakers of Mount Lebanon Will Hold a Peace Conference This Month" has been the working title and is taken directly from an Aug. 20, 1905, story published by the New York Tribune.

"There was a lot of infighting between progressive and conservative ideologies as it relates to faith, but (that's) surprising because it developed in a community that was dedicated to a utopian ideal," Luedtke said.

Hutton already has experience in engaging with this particular type of production since she is in the process of writing her second Shaker-based play, the first being "As It Is In Heaven," produced by GFU theater in spring 2008.

Actors were invited to comment on their character as well, hoping to make sense of what the character is trying to do and contribute to the conversation.

"Sometimes the play will reveal that one character needs more time on stage than another character and so through this process a few of the characters have gained more stage time and others have received less," Luedtke said.

Reid Arthur, GFU junior and theater intern, commented on his time spent in the room that week: "I got to sit there and be a part of the reading as an equal amongst professional Portland actors, which was amazing. As an actor we are always learning vulnerability in the classroom, but then to see a playwright use the same amount of vulnerability in sharing a work in progress with people; she had to be so brave to let us all read her work when it's in progress."

The workshop week marks only the halfway point for whole project. Hutton will have until Aug. 1, 2019, to finalize revisions made to the play during the week. Once finished, each of the schools in the consortium will have a three-year window from 2019-2022 to produce the play on their campuses. After that window, Hutton will have full rights to the play as her own work.

As for the upcoming production at GFU, Arthur said, "I will definitely audition (for the play) because what a cool opportunity that would be to have been in the room from the very infancy of the play, and then get to perform the final product for one of the first inaugural performances."

"(The public) can look forward to a play that seriously engages faith and society," Luedtke said, adding "which is what Fox should be doing."

For more information about the BBTC or GFU theater, visit https://bit.ly/2N8W3ac.

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