The Lab’s New Greenhouse

The Lab’s New Greenhouse

Greenhouse on campus
A greenhouse on a campus. Photo taken by Kate Foster. 2019.

In fall 2020, the last thing we all needed was another Zoom call. Then, the Laboratory for Global Performance & Politics put out a call for proposals that was too intriguing to pass up. Two Georgetown students, Alyssa Kardos and Renny Simone, launched the inaugural Student Lab Fellows program. They turned an obstacle into an opportunity by gathering students interested in the intersection between arts and politics. As an active participant, I would describe it as having the vibes of an interdisciplinary afterschool club with the rigor of a professional new play residency. As the program comes to an end, I am reflecting on its uniqueness based on my experiences as both an undergraduate and graduate liberal arts student. This weekend May 8–9th, the Lab is hosting the program’s culminating virtual event: Verge: A Student Arts and Politics Festival.

It is fitting for the Festival to be called Verge. When I first heard it, I immediately thought of Susan Glaspell’s full-length play The Verge, an American play from the early 20th century. Glaspell wrote about a woman, Claire, in a greenhouse on the verge of creating a new hybrid plant: the Breath of Life. Although this play raises discussion about Claire’s madness as a result of her refusal or inability to become the proper woman of the time, the setting of the greenhouse is fitting for a character attempting to defy convention. It represents a slow and meditative way of creating new life forms. It is an enclosed space for trial and error protected from outside forces. It is a salubrious and safe environment that allows for new forms to be discovered.

As a Student Lab Fellow, I was immersed in the year-long incubation process of artmaking. Each participant was encouraged to create and lead a project they were passionate about. Then, teams took shape based on everyone’s interests and what they could offer to each project. Alyssa and Renny held bi-weekly meetings as guideposts and created open channels of communication throughout the group of Fellows. The goal was for teams to grow ideas into art that address the mission of the Lab: humanizing politics through performance.

This flexible and highly supportive student laboratory was inclusive of students from any university, discipline, and degree level. Undergraduate and graduate students studying a variety of subjects at Georgetown University came together across schools and with students at Columbia University School of the Arts. What tied everyone together is the belief that art can affect social change. During one of our bi-weekly meetings, we brainstormed ways to create a performance or piece of artwork that addresses global vaccine inequality. This opened my mind to the ways I could use my dramaturgy skills to help curate creative projects outside of the traditional theatre, such as documentary film and performance art on campus. Even though this Zoom gathering across state and national borders was mainly due to COVID-19, this level of interaction is a major benefit when considering future hybrid learning.

The program was run by and for students who wanted to engage with the Lab’s mission in a community. Those that chose to follow through with finished projects had to essentially be producers of their own work. There was a second option, however, which was to assist on projects and engage in discussions of artmaking without feeling pressured to generate a finished product. This option gave value to process over product. Rather than a race to the finish line, we held discussions in which we were able to interrogate how our work at the Lab relates to current professional work, how it speaks to both a local and global audience, and if it is relevant, purposeful, and engaging. We were in conversation with the Lab leadership, the Global Lab Fellows, and professional artists like Belarus Free Theatre’s Natalia Kaliada and Bond Street Theatre’s Joanna Sherman.

In the spirit of creating open dialogue, Verge continues these conversations and invites new participants. Throughout the weekend, Student Lab Fellows will host Collaborative Conversations that will immerse attendees in active discussions about the role and value of the artist in society. Following these conversations, the weekend will continue to unfold with the passion projects that the Fellows have developed throughout the year. They include staged readings, live performances, podcasts, and films. We welcome everyone to stop by and enter our greenhouse filled with the vibrant new works we have been cultivating.

Kate Foster is a Student Lab Fellow and MFA Dramaturgy student at Columbia University School of the Arts.