“The Great Divide” Concludes Dance and Theater Season

SIUE’s Department of Theater and Dance offers its final production of the 2017-2018 academic school year with the thought-provoking play; “The Great Divide: A Workshop Production”.

The Great Divide: A Workshop Production is a new play based on real events as scripted by E. M. Lewis, an award-winning playwright and librettist. On explaining her inspiration for the work, Lewis says, “On January 2, 2016, an armed militia group seized control of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon. They wanted to protest what they felt was harsh sentencing of two ranchers who had set fires on federal lands. They wanted the federal government to turn over the land they managed to individual states. They wanted to use federal lands to graze their cattle without charge.  The people who either chose to be, or found themselves unwittingly part of this drama, included ranchers and birders, FBI agents, local sheriffs, Mormons, Evangelists, Paiute tribal chiefs, wives, mothers, local business owners, and guns rights activists. This all happened in the remote, rural, eastern side of Oregon, where cattle outnumber people fourteen to one.”

Lewis continues, “This is the story of one small, rural Oregon community, and what transpired there.  This is the story of the longest, angriest, strangest presidential election this country has ever seen.  This is a story about America, in this divided moment.”

“I am thrilled that we will be working with Ms. Lewis on a project this timely, said Chuck Harper, chair of the Department of Theater and Dance. “And, we got our best case scenario: she will be writing this play as we rehearse, so our students will be a part of the writing process.”

Ms. Lewis goes on to say, “I’m a great fan of long-form narrative journalism including the work of Truman Capote, Joan Didion, and Jon Krakaue…sometimes, the strongest approach to a true story is using the words of the people who are part of it.  This is a large project, but a tremendously exciting one.”

Writing in controversy is nothing new for Lewis; for the last twelve years, she has been writing intimate human stories set against large social issues. Her Primus Prize-winning play “Heads” tackled the Iraq War. The Steinberg Award winning play “Song of Extinction” grappled with ecological challenges and genocide. “Magellanica,” which she researched during a year-long Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University, deals with climate change and international politics. “The Gun Show,” about guns and gun control, just had its twelfth production in the two years since she wrote it. Now, a story is unfolding right here in her home state of Oregon that I feel uniquely positioned to engage. The occupation of the wildlife refuge in Harney County is an American story. Lewis says, “It’s about people who love this country, but feel like its government is their enemy. It’s about states’ rights versus federal rights; public trusts versus privatization. It’s about liberals and conservatives, gun owners, bird-watchers, and federal agents, all in conflict with one another.”

Lewis was awarded a Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University, the 2016 Oregon Literary Fellowship in Drama, and a Playwriting Fellowship from the New Jersey Council for the Arts, and was a finalist for the Shakespeare’s Sister Fellowship. She received the Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award for “Song of Extinction” and the Primus Prize for “Heads” from the American Theater Critics Association. “Song of Extinction” also won the Ted Schmitt Award for Outstanding Writing of a World Premiere Play from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and Production of the Year from the LA Weekly Awards.

The final installment of the semester has the production running in Dunham Hall Theater from April 18th to Saturday, April 21st at 7:30 p.m.

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