The Lynchpin Life

January 09 2019
Ada, played by Michelle Love-Day (left), checks messages while Ida B. Wells, played by Robin Renee, reads part of an editorial on lynching. Ada, played by Michelle Love-Day (left), checks messages while Ida B. Wells, played by Robin Renee, reads part of an editorial on lynching.

by guest writer Adjunct Assistant Professor of Theatre Lynn Deboeck

A question I continue to ask myself as a theatre practitioner and scholar is, why is live performance not a part of our teaching? To teach the artform I love, I should be using live performance to do it. This impulse drove me to apply for a teaching grant which has funded my project to bring liveness into the classroom, supporting students' learning experience.

Initially, the project only included theatre classes. When Dr. Mangun approached me to work with her in the spring of 2018, I was very excited at the prospect. Dr. Mangun asked me to arrange a performance in her class about Ida B. Wells, a remarkable journalist in the late 1800's who investigated reasons why Black men were being lynched. She published three long pamphlets with her findings and observations between 1892 and 1900. Since I did not have access to a play about her, I wrote my own. As a white woman, this posed a significant challenge as I did not wish the voices I was bringing to the fore to be disingenuous. My feminist approach to making theatre is to bring other, more knowledgeable people and resources into my process, which is what I did.

The result was "The Lynchpin Life," a conversation across time between Ida and a contemporary woman (Ada) dealing with both the history of lynching in this country and a current scourge of our culture, the shooting of unarmed black men by law enforcement. I had hoped the story might engage the students to remember what they might never have been taught, but also to see more clearly what they think they already know. I am now looking forward to this piece having a future (a possible performance at the Edward Lewis Festival this February) as well as making more partnerships in other departments to bring scenes to their students and help them connect with the humanity that lies at the heart of the knowledge we aim to disseminate. To use one of Ida's lines in the play, "if people grow too comfortable in their ignorance, you have to jangle to get their attention!" I hope this play continues to toll and reverberate through the students and faculty who experience it. 

Lynn Deboeck, a professor in the theatre department, has been working for the past 18 months on a project to enhance curriculum through performance -- bringing topics to life, so to speak. Part of this project took place on October 29, 2018 when two actors performed a play she wrote for my mass communication history class (COMM 5630). The play, "The Lynchpin Life," juxtaposes the true story of anti-lynching activist Ida Wells with a fictional character who becomes an activist in Black Lives Matter. The goal is to help students gain a different appreciation for Wells while also seeing how history influences current events. Deboeck is using this experience as part of a pilot project funded by a University Teaching Grant called "Teaching Theatre with Liveness." She has given several performers opportunities to learn their craft by participating in live theater, performing for theatre classes and receiving compensation for doing so; Deboeck also seeks to engage in other cross-disciplinary collaborations with faculty to help enrich the education of U students--"The Lynchpin Life" is the first such engagement.