In the midst of the political, racial, religious and sexual conflicts the country faces every day, Auburn University Theater wants to remind the Auburn Family that something as simple as an act of kindness can change the world and people’s lives for the better.
Next year marks the 200th birthday of the state of Alabama, and Auburn’s theater department has been celebrating this upcoming event through themes that are an ode to the state. This is the 105th season of theater at Auburn and the second year out of a three-year celebration for the bicentennial.
Last year’s theme reflected the state through celebrating 125 years of women at the University. This season’s theme, Acts of Kindness, was inspired by a quote by the famous lost pilot Amelia Earhart.
“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees,” Earhart said.
Each show this season has a different plant on its poster that is native to Alabama and representative of the diverse plant life.
“We were interested in connecting the celebration of the bicentennial to what makes Alabama unique, and what we settled on was the flora and fauna of the state as well as a unique natural biodiversity,” said Chase Bringardner, chair of the theater department.
This season presents natural life as its theme, encompassing more than just plants and animals, as Alabama is home to a variety of people groups and a complex history regarding racial harmony and acceptance.
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To choose a theme for their season, the faculty and staff gather together to think about what big issues are happening in the world and what theme would best help call attention to the problems at hand.
“Particularly at a time where there is a lot of division and anger and where people aren’t listening to one another, it is important to come together and learn how to share stories and communicate,” Bringardner said.
The “Acts of Kindness” title was chosen because the goal of this year is to come together to celebrate Alabama whilst addressing problems — past and present — and how they can be solved through kindness.
“All of the shows this season are directly or thematically connected,” Bringardner said.
Each show has a Southern setting, taking place either somewhere in Alabama or in a neighboring Southern area.
The musical this season, “Big Fish,” hits particularly close to home since one of the primary scenes of the story takes place in front of Samford Hall on Auburn’s Campus.
Auburn has always described itself as a family, and that is an important aspect of what the department wants to communicate with the shows. No matter where people come from or what beliefs they hold, there should be a way to create a community that is inclusive to everyone.
“This state represents true diversity both in terms of the natural world and people who inhabit the world,” said Bringardner.
Auburn’s theater department wanted to answer the question of how to create a community between people from such different backgrounds. There is no magic answer to this issue, but the first step in the right direction is kindness.
“The baking of fruitcake or picking of a daffodil are examples in the shows of small gestures of kindness that can start a ripple that creates a wave,” said Bringardner.
The final show of the season, “Alabama Love Stories,” represents kindness in Alabama in an especially real way. It was conceived and will be directed by Auburn theater professor Tessa Carr. This show is based on real-life experiences of love with the materials used to create the show coming from the state archives.
“Stating these acts of kindness in theater itself is a very powerful thing because it builds a line of communication between the idea and the audience, and from there, new ideas spark to create moments,” Bringardner said.
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