UToledo School of Visual and Performing Arts

UT Theatre Alumni & Students “Occupy the Empty Space” in New York

by Megan Aherne
UT Alumnus–BA  Theatre/BA Film/Video 2012

(Click the picture to see more images from the performance)

The first weekend of September, a group of talented individuals and I made our way to New York to participate in Occupy the Empty Space: The Human Right to Mobility

University of Toledo Students and Alumni perform at Occupy the empty Space in NY

University of Toledo Students and Alumni who performed at Occupy the empty Space in NY


festival in Manhattan’s community garden El Jardin del Paraiso. Playwrights from across the U.S. devised 10-minute plays dealing with the struggles and rights of immigrants trying to live in America, and some were selected to be performed at the festival. There were also teach-ins and speeches from various activists and organizations focused on immigrant rights to combine arts and activism in one event.

I directed “Outward Signs of Isolation” by Morgan Mansour. This piece is about a family of Middle Eastern and European descent, who were all inevitably isolated as a result of trying to overcome identity confusion, language barriers and cultural differences. After moving three times in ten years and trying different ways of living, the mother and father became conflicted between their past, present and future. They were unsure as to what set of traditions and values they were supposed to follow, especially as they lived America.

The play takes place in the daughter’s classroom at a parent teacher conference. UT Theatre student, Starr Chellsea Cutino was the private school teacher Mrs. Kibbs, presented as a robotic, politically correct, judge-like figure. The sarcastic, frustrated father, Ahmed, was played by Phillipe Taylor and Ani Copti was Adele, the mother: a hopeful, yet confused, easily assimilable woman. Their 10-year-old daughter, Ayesha, is never physically present onstage, however it is made known at the end that she had been sitting outside in the rain the whole time.

Considering that this play was my first directing experience outside of academia, and in New York, I grabbed that 12-page text and ran as far as I could with it. Through research and discussion, we collaboratively found more layers to this play than perhaps even the playwright was aware of. This is probably because in our first rehearsals we dove into the play with Gabara-esque (Cornel Gabara, that is) detail by dissecting the text word-by-word, then line-by-line.

After understanding the purpose and motivation of each character through the words they are, and are not saying, we proceeded to use Linklater exercises from our Voice and Movement class to bring that mental understanding into the body. The actors really invested themselves in these characters and worked really hard, which definitely showed in their performance.

We were one of two groups from Toledo to be involved in this event. UT alumna Jeanette Turner directed a piece about European immigrants living in Staten Island, starring herself and alumni Jason Santel, Ernest Green and Tyria Allen. Their performance was energetic, funny and thoroughly thought provoking.

To say the least, each of the performances and the experience in general was amazing and truly inspiring. The organizers and performers were so welcoming and talented, while the audience members were attentive and responsive.

The play aside, traveling and staying in New York was surprisingly inexpensive, and if you know me, you know that’s a must. There were five of us on the trip, making gas and the hotel pretty reasonable. We fortunately managed to get a great deal on the hotel we stayed in, which was right in the financial district—a couple blocks away from Ground Zero, and where Occupy Wall Street kicked off.

Our first night in town, we stopped in O’Hara’s Pub to grab a drink. We ended up hanging out with some of the wonderful first responders of 9/11, and were invited to see the firehouse the next day. Thanks to our waiter from that night, who also happened to be a filmmaker, we went to a rooftop party for Fashion Week—severely underdressed. We strolled through China Town, had lunch on the Hudson, hit some fabulous bars, ate great food and learned why you better check your e-mail, baby.

This opportunity really made me realize how getting to, and working and hanging out in New York doesn’t have to be a dream anymore. More than anything I have ever done, this was the most invigorating and life-affirming experience I have ever been a part of—I wouldn’t trade it for anything and I can’t wait for round two!

is Promotions Specialist, College of Arts and Letters, The University of Toledo
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