When she first arrived at Clemson University, Becky Becker set a goal of spotlighting marginalized voices by bringing new works by women and minority playwrights to the Brooks Center.
Now in her second year as chair of the Department of Performing Arts, Becker is directing the world premiere of “John Proctor is the Villain,” written by Kimberly Belflower and inspired by the “Me Too” movement.
Performances of the drama will take place Nov. 18-24 in the Brooks Center’s Bellamy Theatre.
Belflower, an Atlanta-based playwright, has had her work produced in theaters and universities across the country. More than a dozen years ago, she was a student in Becker’s playwriting class at Columbus State University in Georgia.
“The icing on the cake is that she’s someone I happen to know,” Becker said. “I’m really excited for her and her work.”
A relevant play
Becker has directed dozens of plays, but “John Proctor is the Villain” marks her first staging for the Clemson Players, the Clemson student ensemble.
The drama takes place in a small-town high school classroom where students are discussing Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” with their teacher.
Outside the classroom, the “Me Too” movement, with its focus on combatting sexual harassment and sexual assault, dominates the headlines. Students begin to notice parallels with Miller’s classic play. And they recognize that their country town is not free from the larger cultural forces shaking the world.
“What I loved about the play is the timeliness of it and the sensitivity with which Kimberly deals with the ‘Me Too’ movement,” Becker said.
Clemson students in the audience will appreciate the way Belflower depicts young people, Becker said.
“She treats the characters as real human beings, not stereotypes,” Becker said. “I think young people’s perspectives often get discounted and I feel like Kimberly has done a beautiful job of creating characters who are multilayered.”
‘Crucible’ through a modern lens
The title says a lot about the play, Becker said. The students in the classroom begin to question the conventional view of John Proctor, often considered the hero of “The Crucible.” They reinterpret Miller’s play in the context of the “Me Too” movement as they explore identity and feminism, Becker said.
“John Proctor is the Villain” includes strong roles for the performing arts department’s theater students, Becker said. In addition, the actors are close in age and outlook to the high school students they portray.
“We’ve had such amazing discussions about the play,” Becker said. “I think the students had a great time talking about the issues as well as the different layers in the play.”
For an intimate theater such as the Bellamy, the cast is a sizable one of 16, with more than a dozen roles for women. The play includes one guest, Thomas Azar, a prominent Greenville actor, as the students’ teacher.
Nurturing the new
Universities have a responsibility for nurturing new works, Becker said.
“New works in the arts are incredibly important,” she said. “They can create a high profile for an organization. More than that, it’s so important for us in the arts to continue to innovate so our disciplines move forward.”
Though Clemson is presenting the official world premiere production, the play was developed during 2018-19 at three other universities, including Furman University. Belflower sent the play to Becker even before those early stagings took place.
“I just loved it,” she said. “I thought, ‘I really want to do this play.’ It’s great storytelling, very timely, great for college students.”
The play was commissioned by Brooklyn, New York’s Farm Theatre, which specializes in developing new plays and playwrights.
Belflower, who visited Clemson for a few days during rehearsals, is from a small town in Appalachian Georgia – similar to the one depicted in the play, Becker said.
“John Proctor is the Villain” already has been honored by the Kilroys List, a annual survey of excellent new plays by women, transgender and non-binary playwrights that seeks to encourage the production of plays by marginalized voices. Belflower’s play “Lost Girl,” published by Samuel French, won the 2018 Kennedy Center Darrell Ayers National Playwriting Award. Her other plays include “Gondal,” “Teen Girl FANtasies” and “The Sky Game,” which have been commissioned, produced and developed by Ojai Playwrights Conference, South Coast Repertory Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre and other major regional theaters. Belflower, who earned an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin, is currently a playwriting fellow at Emory University.
Performances of “John Proctor is the Villain” begin at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18-23 and 3 p.m. Nov. 24. Tickets are $10 for students and $15 general admission. For more information, call 864-656-7787 or visit www.clemson.edu/brooks.
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