When I was a kid, I always thought it strange to hear adults talking about where they were when some tragic national event occurred: the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. While I understood how significant these events were, and even had some concept of why they would make the entire country go into shock and mourning, I didn’t understand why so many people seemed proud to remember all the details of where they were and what they experienced. Then came: Columbine, 9/11, and Virginia Tech, among others, and just like that I collected my own set of “I remember where”s, and embraced for myself the language of public grieving. If we remember together – we think – we will heal together. But tragedies on a national scale are complicated, and in a short span of time the very certainty that brings us together as a nation is dismantled by press reports, interviews and expert analysis. Ultimately we find ourselves wondering how to mourn events of such scale alone.
Here’s where work like “What a Stranger May Know” comes into the conversation. “What a Stranger May Know,” is a play cycle by Erik Ehn memorializing the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech and attempting to create a new forum for public mourning. The play consists of 32 “altars” of language, one altar for each of the lives taken by the shooter that day. Poetic and cyclical, these plays do not have the voyeuristic feel of reading another’s diary, but the insubstantial essence of the commonness of a stranger’s world. And as all are spoken simultaneously, the words come in waves of meaning and impression. The audience is invited to wander through the performance, which functions as a living garden of text. Ehn writes, “An odd shoe for an odd foot; broken language for a broken world. Address to trauma should be incomplete, off-the-mark, common property.”
This is not your typical theatrical performance.
Performances will be held, on college campuses around the country on the fifth anniversary of the shootings, April 16, 2012. Participants include Brown University (Providence); University of Texas (Austin); Santa Clara University (Santa Clara); Whittier College (Whittier); the New School (New York). Brown University, where Ehn teaches, has set up a blog that documents their own process, with periodic updates from others around the country.
The event at Macalester College is being organized independently by Playwrights’ Center Jerome Fellows Rachel Jendrzejewski and Joe Waechter in collaboration with UMN graduate student Anna Rosensweig.
Macalester College – 1600 Grand Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105
April 16, 2010
In the case of bad weather the reading will move to the Theater Building.
NOTE: Five of the scripts will not be performed due to the wishes of victims’ families. There will be opportunities to participate in small group conversations both during and after.