My Story, My Voice

She’s been homeless, snatched her meals from trash cans and fought alcohol and drug addiction.

“My name is Rose and this is my story,” the 45-year-old Greenville resident recently told a crowd of onlookers.

It wasn’t always an easy story to tell. With the support of a new group of friends from the Greenville community and from Furman, it was a story Rose was willing to share. It’s also one that she plans to give a happy ending.

Students in theatre professor Maegan Azar’s Acting II class recently spent a few weeks with Rose and other Greenville Literacy Association students during a shared learning project themed, “My Story, My Voice: When Life Defies Expectations.”

The six-week project, a partnership between Furman’s Theatre Arts Department, Greenville Literacy Association, and the Warehouse Theatre, was the brainchild of literacy volunteer Katherine Latham and was supported in part by a grant from the Metropolitan Arts Council.

Adults enrolled in the literacy program, ages 24 to 70, were invited to share meaningful events in their lives during a special appreciation evening for literacy volunteers at the Warehouse Theatre. They began practicing for the event by reading and writing elements of their personal stories with Warehouse teaching artists Prentiss Standridge and Kevin Frazier, also an adjunct theatre arts faculty member at Furman.

Furman students arrived for the next stage, where they worked with literacy students to prepare their narratives to share with the large group. They also helped the participants practice public speaking skills, such as stage presence and voice projection for an audience.

“It took all the fear out of me,” said Rose, who enrolled as a literacy student last year. “I’ve been praying and practicing too.”

For some students, their stories focused on their journey to new lives in a new country. For others, their stories were about overcoming health problems, injuries from car accidents and various personal challenges to further their education.

“I am actually shocked that a person only 10 years older than me has gone through so much in her life. I admire her so much,” said Clare Ruble ’17 of her work with her new friend, Maria (name has been changed), who moved to Greenville from Mexico. “I came out of the project with a different outlook on my education, my faith and my life.”

Azar said the project highlights the power of theatre in a community.

“It is very easy to get used to theatre in a “traditional” sense (the audience on one side of the stage, the actors on the other) where we present a production and the audience leaves, left to come to their own conclusions,” Azar said. “But applied theatre like this is about giving voices to people that aren’t usually heard, or haven’t been able to be heard before.”

Joyce, another Greenville resident and literacy student, said the project has helped her in many ways. “It has motivated me to be stronger,” she said. “It opened something up that had been inside of me.”

Rose described the project as an important step that has confirmed her conviction to stick to her education.

“I’m not going to quit until I get my GED,” she said.

 

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