Calvin College Chimes

Verbatim play discusses technology and connection

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Calvin has a great tradition of producing innovative theater and David Ellens’ most recent production, “Here I Am: Stories of Connection and Disconnection in a Modern World,”  is no exception.

Put on in the Lab Theater, this self-described ‘bootleg production’ makes the most of its spare production to produce a truly thoughtful and evocative piece of verbatim theater.

The production has an unfussy attitude, and the sets are simple — three chairs and a small couch facing inward to the Christmas-light-clad aluminum foil tree, a sort of homage to Charlie Brown’s Christmas with a mix of hipster portlandia in a technological dumping ground.

The spare set, the use of light and darkness, sound and silence create striking oppositions which are evocative of the intellectual spirit of the production.

The result of more than fifty interviews with the Calvin community, “Here I Am” asks questions about what it means to be connected in an age of instantaneous textual communication.

What do relationships look like when our primary communication is mediated by the screens of our phones? Ellens delves into the core of what it means to be close to people today.

Verbatim theater is different than the typical theater production put on by the Calvin Theatre Company. Each voice in the play comes directly from the interviews that Ellens conducted for the project.

These voices range from married couples learning what it means to raise a family in this technological age to a student who grew up as a missionary kid navigating American culture.

The stories weave together, a picture of the challenges that comes with connection today.

Much of the power of these stories lies in their verbatim nature. There is weight to the true words of individuals that can be lacking when the language is carefully constructed.

Ellens powerfully connects the stories of individuals from our own Calvin community to speak truth to the experiences that can go unexpressed. He does not pull punches or leave out uncomfortable details.

In the the director’s notes included in the play’s program, Ellens describes the unexpected conversations which began to take place as he conducted these interviews.

Conversations drifted towards the “excruciating” nature of silence and vulnerability.

As our community continues to have conversations about what it means to be Christians and what it means to take Sabbath rest seriously, these are the conversations that we need to pay attention to.

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