Ulrich and Francisconi’s students have been learning about plays that affected social change all throughout history, from the politics of the Ancient Greeks to productions about the AIDS epidemic.
This performance of “Waiting for Lefty” will be a part of the students’ final project for the course.
Describing the class, Ulrich said, “It’s a theatre history and literature class with some sociology in there too.”
As for why they chose this particular play, Ulrich said, “We picked probably the most important one in American History. An actual play where people walked out of the theatre and struck.”
“Waiting for Lefty,” by Clifford Odets, is about taxi drivers and their supporters looking to start a union in 1934. The play’s simple staging and powerful message have made it a popular production in theatre houses ever since its opening.
I asked Professor Ulrich, “What is the key to instructing actors?” She said, “If a person is reliable, intelligent, and listens, I can teach them how to act. Acting is really just reacting.”
“It’s really being able to do your homework and get into other people’s mindset. You have to understand the social context. That’s what we keep telling the students. You need to know that these people are starving. Their kids can’t go to school because they don’t have shoes.”
Ulrich also talked about how a theatre class is uniquely suited to teach history, “It’s a great way to teach multicultural education. It’s a great way to teach students to look at something from someone else’s standpoint.”
“You learn so much about history and other people because you have to walk in their shoes. The students have to talk the talk and walk the walk even if they completely disagree with what’s happening,”
In closing, Ulrich spoke about the faith she has in her honors students: “I’m just amazed at how once you let these students know they’re capable and let them take over, they solve the problems. We had an actor drop out last night, and I said ‘they can figure it out.’ The students are very capable.”
“Waiting for Lefty” will have three showings in the small auditorium on April 27, 28, and 29.