|Cal Poly Pomona?s Bill Morse and Bernardo Solano received a $21,800 Fulbright grant in support of an ongoing theater exchange program with the University of Zimbabwe.|
|Solano and Morse interview one of many passengers for the “Bus Stop Journals.”|
The campus community is invited to watch “Bus Stop Journals: From Pomona to Zimbabwe,” on June 18 and 19, at the Cal Poly Pomona Downtown Center. The play is the result of a year-long collaboration between the university's Theater department and the University of Zimbabwe (UZ).
Cal Poly Pomona's Bill Morse and Bernardo Solano received a $21,800 Fulbright grant in support of an ongoing theater exchange program with UZ. Their research for the project has allowed them to explore the perceptions, or more commonly the misperceptions, each nation's citizens may have of the other.
The grant funds two productions: one in Pomona with a Zimbabwean character who finds himself at a city bus depot and another play in Zimbabwe featuring a Cal Poly Pomona exchange student fresh off the bus in Harare.
Solano, an award-winning playwright and theater arts professor, wrote the Pomona play, and Morse, Theater department chair and professor of design, will create the sets in both countries. Together, they conducted research by visiting the Foothill Transit bus terminus.
“Our partners in Zimbabwe came up with questions that they would ask if they were stuck at a bus terminal in California,” says Morse. “The questions included, 'Where can I get a job?' 'Where's the nearest church?' and 'Will Oprah Winfrey help me?'”
“By interviewing the people who came off the bus, we heard some fascinating stories that have given us a lot of food to develop this play,” says Morse. “One young mother who lives with her parents rides as a tourist. The only way she is able to see the world and spend some time alone is to get on the bus and take a trip down to L.A.”
An older woman he interviewed was an informal bus-bound missionary, “and if the opportunity came up, she'd talk about the church,” he says.
Solano and Morse met with members of Cal Poly Pomona's African American Student Center to gather questions an American exchange student would ask, and they forwarded them to Owen Seda, Theater department chair from the University of Zimbabwe.
“They had some good questions, but they were also concerned about wild animals,” says Morse, which may seem strange to the folks who live in metropolitan Harare, but answering these questions ispart of this stage-based exchange, he assured.
Both Cal Poly Pomona and the University of Zimbabwe have classes that explore community-based theater. This exchange component between the universities includes classes on both continents working together via the Internet as well as travel between the two. Seda will return to Pomona and direct the 45-minute “Bus Stop Journals,” the second production he's directed for the university. Nehemiah Chivandikwa, a Theater lecturer at UZ, will star as the Zimbabwean who's found himself lost in America. Currently Seda is writing the Harare version of the play, which will star Cal Poly Pomona Theater major Courtney Rowan as an African American exchange student who's just arrived at her destination.
“On the surface, ours sounds like a play about a Zimbabwean stuck at a bus stop,” says Solano. “But it's actually about the people of Pomona, the community that rides the bus and their perceptions about themselves, their community and the world beyond.”
The duo's “Bus Stop Journals” research was so fruitful that they've also asked some of the actual bus passengers they met to audition for parts in the Pomona play. And the riders are interested.
“That's part of the concept of community-based theater,” says Solano. “There's a catch phrase for it: 'by, with and for.' Theater that is by, with and for the community.”
“For an actor, involving people from the community is great because we say that we are trying to reach out through art, and in this case, were not only reaching out, but were also collaborating,” says Rowan, who will have roles in both productions.
With this approach, says Morse, the success of the production is enhanced by ordinary, non-actors who will invite their friends and families to see the play — introducing perhaps a new audience to the opportunities in local theater.
INFORMATION: Performances will be on June 18, at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., and June 19 at 4 p.m. The play is approximately one hour in length, with a short discussion after each performance with the artists involved in the production. The performances are all free, with a suggested donation of $5 (to be used for the Theater department's Scholarship Fund). The Cal Poly Pomona Downtown Center is located at 300 W. Second St. in the Pomona Arts Colony.