Months of hard work will come to fruition for the members of Vitalist Theatre in Chicago as they debut their show “Multitudes.” Directed by Professor Liz Carlin Metz, the British play sheds light on the effects of overly nationalist and anti-immigration mindset on individuals and their families.
Carlin Metz, who is co-founder of the Vitalist Theatre company along with husband Professor Robin Metz, described that she first saw the play while teaching abroad in London in Feb. 2015. Immediately after seeing the production, she wanted to produce the play.
In April, the play was part of the International Voices Project, which consisted of staged readings from the new international play scene. According to Carlin Metz, the process of producing a fully staged showing of “Multitudes” began that same night.
Senior Caroline Foulk, who served as Assistant Stage manager for the production, said that her involvement gave her a unique experience of producing a play outside of Knox.
“After four years of being here I feel like Resident Stage Manager, someone who is very knowledgable,” she said. “But going out into the real world this summer, it was like being a newbie again.”
While British playwrights usually prefer to have productions of their shows in New York before they are released to the rest of the United States, Carlin Metz expressed that she was fortunate to have been granted the rights to put on a production of “Multitudes” not even two days after requesting permission.
She noted that there were several other coincidences that resulted in the production process being much shorter than usual. While normally one has to reserve a venue a year in advance, Carlin Metz was able to secure a venue not even a week into the production process.
For Carlin Metz and the rest of the Vitalist Theatre company, the timing of the production was important for getting the message across most effectively. Because the issues brought up in the play are prevalent in politics, she hoped that the play would prompt audience members to reflect on the issues brought up.
“We wanted this play to go up during the election season because of the heightened anti-immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric and attitudes that are being released,” she said. “We wanted to present the play during the time during which this was prolific.”
Though the timing was convenient, it also meant commuting from Knox to Chicago on the weekends for Carlin Metz, who usually goes on leave when she produces a show during the school year.
‘Multitudes” takes place in Bradford, England, and is centered around a multicultural family who is dealing with the anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment that is plaguing the region.
“I think it’s well worth students seeing as they contemplate the issues of diversity that are center stage thanks to the rhetoric in our current election cycle,” she said. “The play is passionately articulate about the effect of prejudice and hatred and anti-immigration on individuals. And how, when you do that, you isolate them and you risk turning them alien.”
Foulk noted that this play conveys a powerful message due to its humanization of those vulnerable to the appeal of extremist groups. The show provides the logic and reasoning behind several opposing perspectives, with one of the main aspects of the show dealing with a teenaged girl who is persuaded to join the extremist side.
“What’s really compelling and what I think Knox students would get out of it is her arguments for why she thinks it’s right, because her logic is sound,” she said. “But it’s ultimately destructive and she ends up getting hurt.”
There are currently about 12 Knox alumni who have been part of the production process, taking on various roles from stage managing, to lighting design. There are also several current Knox students who who have contributed to the construction of the set, which took place on campus.
One of Foulk’s central roles in the production was coordinating the scene changes and traditions. She noted that because sheer amount of locations and scene changes taking place in the play, she and the other members of the crew were focused on creating a sense of unity within the set while making sure that it is easily changeable.
Foulk said that the play coincides with one of the fundamental messages that Knox intends to send to the student body.
“It does something that I think Knox College really supports,” she said. “It’s creating art and constructing it in a way that adds to a discourse about politics and our social situations and how we understand the world.”