OSWEGO — Award-winning poet-playwright Marcus Gardley will visit SUNY Oswego April 24 to 27, engaging students in the development of his play about ’60s activist Malcolm X, whose assassination Gardley said is “shrouded in mystery.”
Rehearsals, classroom visits and a culminating reading will serve as building blocks for an initiative of The Acting Company, which is working with nearly 30 colleges, universities, arts magnet schools and community organizations in regions around the United States to present the new play “X” in repertory with Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”
SUNY Oswego is partnering with Le Moyne and Hamilton colleges on the project; both plays will be performed on each campus next spring.
Gardley, winner of the 2011 PEN/Laura Pels Award for Mid-Career Playwright, and Acting Company artistic director Ian Belknap, director of “X,” plan to work with classes in playwriting, dramaturgy, costume design and writing about literature during their Oswego residency, the third visit to Central New York by company artists this academic year.
Students at the three area colleges are also eligible to participate in a national playwriting festival as part of The Acting Company’s initiative. Public readings of selected scripts will take place regionally and, for four judged the best, in New York City.
The three-year project emphasizes the educational and community value of theater that connects audiences with authentic and socially relevant themes drawn from multicultural perspectives, said John Shaffer, director of arts programming at the college.
The undertaking closely tracks SUNY Oswego’s own strategic plan for engaging its diverse and talented student body, he added.
“Working directly with renowned artists, students are challenged to think critically about defining events in two societies, and two leaders separated by time, race and culture,” Shaffer said.
The theme tying together the plays “X” and “Julius Caesar” centers on the ugliness of backroom politics and related historical patterns people continue repeating.
Shakespeare’s classic tragedy tackles essential questions about ambition, personal loyalty and love of country, as a rising political star is silenced by his most trusted allies.
“X” will explore what Gardley calls the “half-told” story of a man whose life and death reverberate with eerie echoes of Caesar’s.
Gardley said he has “always been compelled by the story of Malcolm X.” In an artist’s statement, he wrote that “there are aspects about Malcolm’s life that are parallel to Caesar’s. I think the epic nature and political content of ‘Julius Caesar’ are excellent in analyzing the plot of how Malcolm was murdered. Both dramas are about the assassination of character as much as they are about the murder of a body.”
“This project is the most exciting drama that I have worked on in ages,” said Gardley, author of “Every Tongue Confess,” “On the Levee” and other plays. “Whereas one time I was haunted by how to write about Malcolm, now I wake up daily, elated to write about his final days and to resurrect the man while putting to bed the myths.”
Actors for the reading of “X” on April 27 will include SUNY Oswego theater faculty member Henry Shikongo and students Asha Charles, Michael Jaquez, Khari Constantine, Sultan Ali, Kelci Schlierf, Michael Calobrisi, Nick Cocks, Spencer Ventresca, Sydney Lattenhauer and Emma Johnson.
In 2014, The Acting Company presented Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” in repertory at SUNY Oswego, the latter elevating two hapless minor characters of “Hamlet” to lead roles.
Founded by John Houseman and Margot Harley in 1972, the New York-based Acting Company advances theater, literacy and the careers of talented young actors, often fostering the arts in underserved and disadvantaged communities.
It has toured 48 states and 10 foreign countries, earning a Tony Award for Excellence in Theater, Obies, Audelcos and Los Angeles Critics Circle Awards. Kevin Kline, Rainn Wilson, Patti LuPone and David Ogden Stiers are among the hundreds of performers who began their careers on tour with The Acting Company.