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Artisia Green '00: artist, activist, alumna

Assistant professor of theatre to make her W&M directorial debut with ‘Ruined’

 

A little over a decade ago as a student at the College, Artisia Green learned about the craft of directing from William & Mary’s theatre faculty.

Now as a member of that faculty herself, she is preparing to make her main stage directorial debut with a production of the Pulitzer-Prize winning play “Ruined,” which she hopes will both inform and challenge its audiences.

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The play, which focuses on the lives of people affected by war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), will open at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall on April 19 and will run through April 22. Because the play explores mature themes, it is not recommended for people under the age of 16.

“Ruined” was written by American playwright Lynn Nottage following a series of interviews she conducted with women who had escaped the war between rebel militias and the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to Uganda over land.

“Crafting a play from the direct content of the interviews would have been invasive,” said Green. “Lynn commented that she wanted to respect their privacy as it was courageous enough for them to share their story with her. Thus, she changed the names of the women whose stories she used and utilized the interviews as a starting place to discuss the larger issues of the Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly sexual violence as a weapon of war.”       

Though Nottage was going to, at first, make the play a modern version of Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage,” she decided that it wasn’t the story that needed to be told, said Green.

“Oftentimes, we hear about conflict areas and we see the victims, but we don’t necessarily hear from the victims,” Green said. “‘Ruined’ allows us to hear from the victims who are caught in the middle of the war in the DRC.  It is a snapshot of the people, their land, their culture, their struggle, their immense loss and their resiliency.

“In an interview, Lynn Nottage said, ‘…with Ruined, I went in search of my African sisters.  When I wrote it, I felt a greater sense of urgency simply because I feel the conflict is still raging, but interest is fading.  I wanted to depict the modern Africa in all its complexity, and to show the beauty and humor and what keeps the people there going.’”

Green, who also serves as the president of the Black Theatre Network, said she proposed doing this play because she is “an artist activist.”

“So, it’s important that I am able to direct works that show how we are constantly responding to the socio-political forces that confront humanity,” she said. “Ruined allows for the opportunity to promote change. In another interview, Lynn said, ‘Act.  Put down your newspaper and actively get engaged.  It’s very easy for all of us to be armchair activists. And very easy to be outraged in the moment – but very difficult to choose to do something tangible to implement change.’ In addition to her work with Amnesty International, Lynn wrote a play about the issues. Now, I am using my sphere of influence to tell the story here in Williamsburg to a new audience.

Green hopes that the play is able to increase audience members’ global awareness, particularly concerning the conflict in the DRC, which is being indirectly funded by the West’s consumption of technology, said Green. Many of the minerals used in cell phones and other technological devices come from the DRC.

“Research conducted by the Enough Project, a non-profit organization working to end genocide and other crimes against humanity, notes that tracing the mineral supply chain is difficult,” said Green. “Thus, consumers have no way of knowing if their purchases aren’t financing state and non-state groups that commit sexual violence and other acts of hostility.”

Many of the students involved in the production were already aware of the situation in the DRC, said Green, “but I think exposing it in this format – the theatrical format – is a little more creative than just simply discussing it in a classroom.

“It gives them a platform for action and allows them to support the efforts being made by their peers to aid women and children in conflict areas who are displaced, hurt and need educational and financial empowerment. I have spoken to students right here on campus involved with STAND who are working through Women for Women International to sponsor a woman as well as the Kenya Sustainable Village Project who are working through Nyumbani to sponsor women and children.  Both of those organizations will participate in the international marketplace outside of ‘Ruined.’  All of us working together will provide audience members a chance to immediately act on what they learn in the play.”

Although the conflict in the DRC and particularly the sexual violence that occurs as a result of that conflict is a difficult topic to address, seeing it in a play may help audiences confront it, Green said.

“I think the staging of this particular production of ‘Ruined’ will help audiences confront the topic,” she said. “The set designer, Matt Allar, has coherently and beautifully helped me capture the world of the play in the downstage area of the main stage. The sound designer, Chelsea Reba, has created a natural soundscape that will continuously play underneath the action and dialogue. Lighting designer Steven Holliday is creating a naturalistic lighting plot that will complement the actors and the world they inhabit, and costume designer Patricia Wesp has identified symbolic adornments for each of the characters.  All of these things working in tandem with my dedicated actors have the potential to captivate the audience in ways that a documentary cannot.

“There is something tremendously powerful about a live presentation, especially one that is unforgiving in its attempt to connect with the audience the way our production does.” 

The production is furthering Green’s own spirit of activism, she said. It has also helped her see the growth in her direction, her dramaturge work and her teaching.

“I’m able to see what I’m doing in the classroom manifest itself here in this production,” she said. “My dramaturge, Nathan Alston, is a former student and now desires to study South African theatre and is planning for a summer research tour to South Africa. One of my soldiers in ‘Ruined,’ Ricky Coston, has taken three of my classes and is desiring to make performance a part of his career in a lifelong way. And a third of the rest of the cast have taken classes with me, attended Black Theatre Network conferences and events with me and/or have worked with me on other shows.

“I am doing exactly what I set out to do the day I decided I was going to be a teacher.  What is happening with this production of ‘Ruined’ is affirming.”

Green, who studied direction and acting under the likes of Theatre Instructor David “Pops” Doersch (who is now the fight choreographer for ‘Ruined’), said that she credits many of her former professors at William & Mary for the work she is doing now.

“I am standing on the shoulders of several women and men who made it possible for me to study here and return to teach here,” she said. “Those professors and even administrators were able to see things in me that I wasn’t able to see in myself at the time, and I think that’s the beauty of teaching. The beauty of teaching was shown to me by faculty who, as scholar and cultural worker bell hooks says, ‘taught to transgress.’  That is teaching against boundaries and truly interrogating lenses.  But most importantly, these faculty also transcended.  In short, they challenged me and inspired me beyond the course content."

Although she spent a lot of time in the theatre department while at William & Mary, Green was actually a psychology major. However, she said that her study of psychology still plays a large role in her current work.

“Psychology was the best choice for me because it’s about the study of behavior, and when you look at a play, even when you are reading it and trying to interpret it, it’s about the behavior of the individuals and why they make the choices that they do, so that has served me well,” she said. “It has also served me well in just my relationships with students.”

Green, who will also direct August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” next semester, said she is excited about her work and about being back at her alma mater, which she returned to in 2010.

“I feel like it’s a coming of age somewhat, coming full circle,” she said.

“It feels good to be here and to see the growth in the campus community, the growth in our department and to be able to contribute to creating a welcoming learning space.”