Theatre program’s original play ‘The Banned Books Club’ to be recognized in celebrated college festival
In the fall 2023 semester, Salve Regina’s theatre program put on an original devised play entitled “The Banned Books Club” in McKillop Library, a play that is now being recognized by the northeast regional division of the Kennedy Center American Theatre College Festival (KCACTF), which is running Jan. 30 – Feb. 3 in New Britain, Connecticut.
Last spring 2023, another devised play by Salve — “The Bible Women’s Project” — was selected to go to the KCACTF, and it went on to win three national awards: the Citizen Artist Award, the Distinguished Performance Ensemble and the Distinguished Devised Play.
That “The Banned Books Club” has now also been selected to perform at this spring’s northeast regional division of KCACTF is another big win for Salve’s theatre program — especially when it comes to devising.
“Last year, Salve was the only college in the country to win a Distinguished Devising award at the national KCACTF,” said Dr. Tara Brooke Watkins, program coordinator for theatre. “This means that Salve’s theatre program is becoming known and appreciated for our strong ability to create original work through the devising process — a process that is on the cutting edge of where theatre is going.”
Devising ‘The Banned Books Club’
A devised play is when a play is created from scratch by actors or community members and does not rely on a pre-determined script by a playwright. Devising is a complex process, especially for “The Banned Books Club,” according to Sarah Ploskina, adjunct faculty in the theatre program and the director of “The Banned Books Club.”
“In the creation of the scripted piece, we reached out to librarians throughout Rhode Island,” Ploskina described. “Their input and willingness to share personal and sometimes harrowing experiences with book challenges was moving and transformational for our understanding. This helped us shift our focus to more specific ways in which book bans impact communities.”
The cast presented early versions of the play’s scenes and engaged in forum theatre with the Salve community during a Banned Books Week in the fall of 2023, which was only three weeks into the entire process. The responses the cast got from those early audiences shaped the script and plan for audience interaction.
When the formal version of the play was performed end of October 2023, audience members were able to watch a story enfold with solidified characters, but then the audience was able to go back, pause scenes and ask for new ways in which the story could’ve played out.
“Our formal audiences near the end of the fall semester reinforced the power of the stories and perspectives in the show,” explained Ploskina. “Topically, ‘The Banned Books Club’ addresses an intersection of very timely issues: free speech, education, local government, extremism …. So the combination of the format and content of this play makes the piece a strong example of why theatre is still a valuable tool for society.“
Dr. Watkins is very proud of the Salve students who will be participating in KCACTF this year — not only for their willingness to tackle such an important topic, but also because devising stretches actors in ways that other plays might not.
“I’m proud of how this show stretched the acting, listening, improvisation and risk-taking ability of our students,” she said. “They have to be willing to listen to what an audience member needs from their character and be able to improvise – sometimes in multiple ways – a change from what has been written until audience members feel satisfied with the results.”