At The Intersection of Imagination and Social Justice
Award-winning playwright and performer Mary Tuomanen will spend her time as this semester's Friend in Residence making, workshopping, and performing theater that imagines a better world.
Mary Tuomanen is a lot of things—a performer, a playwright, a founding member of Philadelphia's first producing playwright's collective, Philadelphia Magazine's Best Theater Artist of 2015, the winner of the 2017 F. Otto Haas Emerging Philadelphia Theatre Artist—but at her core she is, first and foremost, a collaborator.
That was true in her student-led courses at Phillips Exeter Academy, where she learned by debating and engaging with her fellow students rather than being lectured to by teachers. It was true during her three post-collegiate years in Paris at the Jacques Lecoq School of Movement Theater, where she trained in a physical style of performance that transcended language and relied heavily on teamwork. And it still true today, both in the way that she works as a polically engaged theater artist and in the kind of program she has created for her two-week stay on campus as this semester's Friend in Residence.
Haverford College's Friend in Residence program, now in its seventh year, brings gifted and experienced Quakers to campus for extended interactions with the Haverford and local community to enrich the students' educational experience, deepen the school's appreciation of its Quaker roots, and strengthen the College's connections within the broader Quaker community.
Tuomanen, who discovered the Religious Society of Friends when she moved to Philadelphia 10 years ago and now attends Friends Meeting of Philadelphia and Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting, comes to campus this week for a slate of performances, workshops, and activities that combine her passions for theatrical imagination, social justice work, and faith. And of course, many of them will be collaborations.
"I think I will learn a lot from the Haverford community," says Tuomanen. "I am very excited to be a part of the deep questioning and investigation of Haverford students and teachers, many of whom seem to be on a quest for a more just world."
Walter Sullivan, director of Quaker Affairs, first met Tuomanen at a talkback after a performance of one of her plays, Marcus/Emma, and was moved to think about inviting her for the Friend in Residence program after seeing the Philadelphia premiere of Peaceable Kingdom, her play about William Penn's treaty with the Lenape people, based on the paintings of Quaker Edward Hicks. (That 2017 work was nominated for seven Barrymore Awards and earned the Virginia Brown Martin Philadelphia Award for best particular understanding of our global community.
"I was fascinated by Mary's passion and creativity and wanted to share her vision with students, faculty, and staff on campus," says Sullivan. "As Mary and I started to explore the nature of a possible residency, I discovered that she is a collaborator at her core, which is a quality that I love and that is resonant with the central role of community in the Quaker faith."
In addition to visiting classes and meeting with faculty members and student groups, Tuomanen's residency features three projects that focus on imagination and social justice. The first is a Feb. 3 workshop of a fledgling theater piece about the English peasant uprising of 1381, When Eve Span, which is a collaboration between Tuomanen, historian and author Mark O'Brian, theatermaker John Cresswell, and University of Pennsylvania Urban Studies Professor Andy Lamas. (The workshop actually marks the first time all of the international creators are meeting in person.) The second is a solo show about madness, rage, and feminism, Hello! Sadness!, which she will perform Feb. 10. And the third is two workshops—on imagining and building new societies—with Tuomanen's radical theater company, Applied Mechanics, on Feb. 10 and 15.
"All of these pieces are exercises in writing the narratives of solidarity and revolution that we will need if we are going to try to create a more just world in the face of incredible odds," she says.
She is most excited to learn from and collaborate with Sullivan—"whose radical gentleness is a great inspiration," she says—and Haverford's students, some of whom, with their participation in the When Eve Span workshop, will be helping to create a new work of art that will live on and develop past her campus residency. As with all of her work, Tuomanen hopes to do as much learning as she does teaching at Haverford.
"With any luck, I can be a part of the truth-seeking mission these students are pursuing in earnest, and join the dialectic that leads us all to better ideas," she says. "I hope I have something to offer them in terms of the narrative I have cobbled together that keeps me going in the face of incredible odds—the idea that a more just world is possible. There is a sort of radical faith there that is often tested in this historical moment. I use a lot of silliness, imagination and joy in this practice, and I hope that will be of use to the Haverford community."