Constellations of community

Dr. Laura Dougherty discusses the complexities of home in Hamline Theatre’s spring production, “The Homing Project.”

Eden Fahy, A&E reporter

Throughout the last few years, the world has seen new levels of destruction and chaos that has left millions of people strewn from their homes, families and communities. This spring, Dr. Laura Dougherty hopes to explore these themes with her devised production “The Homing Project.” The third devised piece seen in this year’s season, Dougherty hopes to continue the conversations in the Theatre department about the creation of theatre, and start a conversation about what home means to individuals and communities. But what is “devised” theatre?

“Devised theatre is about collaborative performance creations…together with a cast of performers you create a performance text around a story, or an idea, or a theme, or an improvisation,” Dougherty said.

Although in past years at Hamline, Dougherty has focused mainly on producing scripted productions, she says that she has been looking for an opportunity to introduce devised work to the Hamline theatre community. “The Homing Project” was that opportunity.

As a member of the faculty that supports the Center for Justice and Law, Dougherty was inspired by this year’s theme of “refugee and immigrant health and justice.” 

“Since I have joined the CJL a couple of years ago, I really wanted to talk about how the arts speak to topics and content that we talk about in interdisciplinary circles all the time,” Dougherty said.

“The Homing Project” hopes to highlight the similarities between immigrant and refugee experiences and our own. 

“One thing that I thought was that the idea of building and investing in justice for immigrant and refugee folks is so much more connected to everybody than I think maybe we all think it is,” Dougherty said. “So thinking about coming to home, needing to leave home, building home, home being safe, home not being safe, home being allusive, is something that is commonality between all people [no matter] age, race, ethnicity, experience.”  

Dougherty has had her cast focus on the general ideas of home.

“Thinking about the idea of home, and home as a concept rather than telling stories of any particular people,” Dougherty said. “One of the things I’m working with with the performers is the vectors of home. So like homecoming, home-going. What tears us from, what pulls us to, how we build, how we lead.” 

As the cast and Dougherty get ready for their performance however, Dougherty confesses that the rehearsal process has been incredibly daunting and humbling for her as a director.

“It’s different for me from past projects, because the work is coming directly from the working bodies and minds and lives of the participants, when the bodies and lives and minds of the participants are taxed, it’s harder to create the work,” Dougherty said. “One thing that’s always incredibly humbling, that trends happen in devised work, is that people share really major parts of their lives.” 

Dougherty explains that because of these unique perspectives, many times prompts or ideas that she has generated for discussions and scenes end up going in completely different directions then she would have expected. This however, is something that she greatly encourages and appreciates.

“Because it’s real people with real experiences, [the actors] go in such a variety of directions,” Dougherty said. “The way folks who might not know each other, or who might not have as much experience with performing or with this kind of creation of performance making, are so willing to share really big parts of their lives is just such—I just hold such space for it, such respect for the beautiful…courage in vulnerability.”

Dougherty is not surprised though that something like the idea of home brings up such difficult memories and emotions. She believes that these confessions and lived experiences are a part of collective healing, something the world is in great need of recently.

“When folks share their hearts and their grief…I think it’s a part of collective healing,” Dougherty said. “You are instantly reminded of, you know, everyone you are in a room with is navigating a story that you don’t know the weight of. It reminds me as a faculty member how much students navigate and bring into every space.” 

Dougherty explained that there isn’t a goal for the show, but rather she hopes that audience members will simply enjoy being present as they join the cast on stage to create intimacy. She says that she rarely approaches a show with a set goal or ‘ah-ha’ moment in mind.

“That folks would share their time and their breath and their lived moments with us is a gift,” Dougherty said. “I love the idea…that something that happens in a performance resonates, and maybe it sticks in the back of your mind and like three months later you think about “I saw this thing in a show once and there was this moment between two people and it’s just stuck with me, or it made me mad, or it made me think about my mom, or it made me think about someone I’m in love with, or it made me think about my dog, or it made me want to plant tomatoes, or it made me want to care about people.” 

But Dougherty emphasized that it is just as good to simply engage and share your time with the actors and herself. That to go and share moments of community is more than enough.

“We carry those lived moments of community with us [and] I really have to believe that it changes us anyways,” Dougherty said. “I think it creates a constellation of community in our minds and in our lives that we realize that we are people who gather with other people to share moments that are celebratory or difficult or about trauma or grief, or you know, joy, and that’s how we build a life. That lives are built from moments of shared community.” 

Performances for “The Homing Project” will take place in the Anne Simley Theater, April 8 and 9. Join Laura Dougherty and the cast, as they explore the extent, definition and meaning of home across cultures.