Caitlin Kane

New Greensboro Post Card
New Greensboro Post Card

My work, as both a theater artist and a scholar is, at its very core, the product of a collective effort. I could not be here without the support and mentorship of countless individuals. This feels particularly important to note in the context of this project because my essay, “Performing the Past/Rehearsing the Future,” is both the product of and an examination of a deeply collaborative approach to documentary theater and public scholarship. In lieu of a more traditional bio, I’d like to thank just a few of the many people who have made it possible for me to be here:

My ever-supportive family: Karen Kane, Maggie Kane, John Vogelpohl, and Nick Vogelpohl. The mentors who have inspired and fostered by artistic and scholarly career: Michele Mascari, Michael Burnham, PJ Paparelli, Sarah Slight, Kelli Simpkins, Sarah K. Chalmers, Godfrey Simmons, Sara Warner, Debra Castillo, Kate McCullough, and J. Ellen Gainor. My friends and colleagues whose love and generosity nourishes my work and my life in more ways than they could know: Al Evangelista, Kevin McDonald, Reed Motz, David Brang, Laura Matthews, and Amy Szerlong. And last, but certainly not least, the sixteen scholars, with whom I inhabited the physical and imaginary space of this seminar, who challenged and inspired me each time we gathered this year.

If this were an individual endeavor, I would not be here, would not trust my voice to tell this story, and would not have the experience necessary to bring this essay to fruition. Luckily, I have had the opportunity to conceptualize and craft this essay in collaboration with both scholarly and artistic collaborators. I am here pursuing this work because of the individuals mentioned here and so many more. I could not be more grateful to be learning and growing with them.

“Performing the Past/Rehearsing the Future” tells the story of American Theater Company’s (ATC) Youth Ensemble’s production of Emily Mann’s Greensboro: A Requiem. In this essay, I examine the ways in which this intergenerational collaboration between Chicago Public High School Students and a collective of seasoned civil rights activists allowed for a cross-temporal retelling of the 1979 Greensboro Massacre. The essay argues that the members of the ensemble, and their counterparts at the Beloved Community Center (BCC) in Greensboro, exemplify the potentialities of the Public Humanities outside of academia. Both groups utilized the documentary process to re-examine both Greensboro’s often forgotten history and its contemporary implications at a time when Black Lives Matter was rapidly gaining national recognition. In doing so, they engaged in the process that BCC Executive Director, Rev. Nelson Johnson describes as not “merely look[ing] to the past for a model” but also “learning from and building on the best of the past, [in order to] envision and create something new together.” These collectives each dreamt into being a vision of what a more equitable and just world might look like and then worked to embody that vision within the microcosm of their communities. “Performing the Past/Rehearsing the Future” considers what these processes of envisioning and embodying alternative futures through theater and activism might tell us about the potentialities of the public humanities within and beyond academia.

This essay is written in the memory of PJ Paparelli, Cesar Cauce, Dr. Michael Nathan, William Sampson, Sandra Smith, Dr. James Waller, and all of the men, women, and children who have lost their lives to state-sanctioned violence. It is also written in profound gratitude to American Theater Company’s Youth Ensemble and the Beloved Community Center.

“Live like them. Dare to struggle. Dare to win.”