Theatre Students Kick Off the 2018 Directing Thesis Season with 'LORDES'

BY Paola Alexandra Soto, October 9, 2018

"What I leave behind has a life of its own. I've said this about poetry; I've said it about children. Well, in a sense I'm saying it about the very artifact of who I have been.” —Audre Lorde


The School of the Arts Theatre program will kick-off its third year directing thesis productions with the premiere of LORDES directed by Katherine Wilkinson ’19 who also co-wrote the play with Gethsemane Herron-Coward ’19. Audre Lorde is an American writer, feminist, civil rights activist, librarian, mother, partner, and warrior, among many other things. She was the New York State Poet Laureate who left behind a great legacy for women, African-Americans, and those in the LGBTQ communities. Wilkinson’s original play about Audre Lorde tells the story of her writing what turned out to be her last poem before she died of liver cancer in 1992.


We had a the opportunity to talk with Katherine about her thesis project. This is what she had to say. 


Why did you decide to do this particular production for your thesis project?


Audre Lorde’s work has been important to me for a long time. Her poetry and prose gave words to a specific hope and clarity that so often elluded me in my queer female body. So, on the one hand, my choice to make this play was personal. On the other equal hand, it’s completely political. I’m dedicated to destabilizing and disrupting white supremacy, heteronormativity, and the patriarchy in all my work. There is no better figure to guide our moral compass than Audre Lorde. When we first embarked on the project last March, we had nothing, just four of Audre’s essays and a lot of very exciting big ideas. Then slowly over the last six months, the show has revealed itself more and more. By the time we finished the spring production, we felt its momentum. We owed it to ourselves to keep trying to make the thing—to throw ourselves into something unknown and keep building. 



What do you hope the audience will get out of the performance?


Hope. Hope in our own unique and ecstatic potential. Hope in overcoming the impossible and faith that the energy of others can uplift you. These are trying times in our country for women, for people of color, for queer folks, we can never forget that all these identities intersect. LORDES hopes to be a beacon of light. 



What was the most exciting part about this project?


Directing and creating with fifty actors is a gift. It’s terrifying at times but mostly magical. The challenge of conveying one clear idea to so many people has taught me immense lessons about communication and trust. 



What was the biggest challenge?


Poetry is tough on stage. In many ways, our play is structured like a poem—pieces of logic, mixed with memory, tossed with deeply visceral experience, all intersecting and colliding in one world. At times, working with such a structure was daunting and terrifying. Particularly in a world that so readily rewards linear and logic based work. In the midst of the process, we all were grappling with our own theatrical demons, acknowledging their desires to derail us from our intuition. Continuing to explore, even in the midst of pressure towards a “final work” was really hard. 



What has been a crucial lesson from your training?


What is it? What is it really? My time at Columbia has taught me to re-examine my own preconceived notions and get insanely specific about what I am creating. Beauty isn’t enough. What is the work in service of? 



Tell us something that you found surprising about the process of putting up this production?


It was surprising to feel like a show that I had previously devised and then co-wrote could feel so new to me in the rehearsal room. This show keeps challenging me to stay awake and change even when I feel like I’ve figured her out. 



What is your philosophy for directing?


Be good to the people you work with. 

Never give up.

Never stop editing.

Be generous.

The body never lies.

If you can create a culture for your ensemble that is grounded in both love and rigor, they will go the distance for you. 

Don’t ever apologize for your existence but thank people when they truly see you.

Drink water. 

Lots of water. 



Where do you see yourself in five years?


In five years, I will be directing work that walks its talk and doesn’t hold punches. I want to thrive inside of a career that is an extension of my artistic mission: to bring people together, to challenge what we are capable of, and rigorously investigate how collaboration can improve our lives. I could also list off a bunch of big accomplishments that I’d like to have under my belt but I think why the heck am I making theatre is most important when I think of the future. The how and what seem to come like waves. 


"Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society's definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference – those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older – know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master's house as their only source of support.” —Audre Lord