Westmont Magazine Theater's Next Act: Justice and Global Engagement
The Westmont Theater Arts Department seeks to better reflect its commitment to diversity, justice, global engagement and intercultural competency.
After releasing a statement opposing racism in September, the department established the Justice and Global Engagement in the Theatre Arts Initiative. John Blondell, award-winning director and Westmont professor of theater arts, serves as the new global ambassador in the performing arts. The initiative also establishes a new artist/scholar-in-residence for diversity, equity and inclusion in theater arts beginning in fall 2021.
“The ultimate goal is to expand our global engagement and simultaneously work toward being a program seeking justice and opposing racism in our structures, approaches, curricula and artistic offerings,” says Mitchell Thomas, Westmont professor and chair of theater arts. “The guest artist/scholar position will infuse new life, energy and perspectives into our community and allow us to offer a greater array of important core courses and artistic offerings focused on equity, inclusion and diversity in the theater arts.”
Thomas has reviewed several dozen applications from around the world for the new artist/scholar, who will teach a course on race, ethnicity and gender on the American stage as well as a Great Literature of the Stage focusing on diversity, justice and equity.
The antiracism statement, which recognizes the historic, ongoing impacts of structural and systemic racism, says the department is dedicated to investigating and embodying equity and inclusion for all students, faculty and staff. “Animated by a vision of God’s dream for God’s people and all creation, the department affirms that all people are created in God’s image and works to uphold and encourage that sacred reality,” the statement says. “The fundamental subject of the theater is change. Change is impossible without action. Change comes
as a consequence of willed, focused, motivated intent—of the spirit moving toward some desired end.”
Blondell’s new role allows him to teach and direct for one semester at Westmont while devoting the other semester to international theater. “I’m delighted and honored,” Blondell says. “These positions reflect the department’s commitment to seek change and transformation relative to local, national and global conversations and movements.”
The pandemic and a war in Armenia have added layers of challenges to Blondell’s international theater yearnings, but several months into his sabbatical he hopes to resume teaching and directing abroad. “The time has been rich, rewarding and constantly dynamic,” he says. “I’m grateful to Westmont for this opportunity, for the ways I’ll be able to engage with other cultures and for what I’ll bring back to the college.”
In April, Blondell, founding artistic director of the Lit Moon Theatre Company, director of the Lit Moon World Theater Festivals and co-founder of the Bitola (Macedonia) Shakespeare Festival, produced Anton Chekhov's masterpiece, “The Three Sisters.” Lit Moon has scheduled its third Chekhov production, “Ivanov,” for October. “We rehearse with a group of actors from Athens, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Helsinki, Tehran, Tirana, Saint Petersburg, Bitola and Yerevan,” Blondell says. “It’s been
a lifeline for all of us—a way to stay connected, to work as artists and to interact across borders and time zones during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re a group of artists without borders, and it has been a rich, emotionally and artistically fulfilling time of our lives.”
In May, Blondell plans to travel to Bitola, Macedonia, where he will direct a solo performance of “Pirey,” a famous Macedonian novel about survival set in the early 20th century during the Bulgarian Wars. “The show will play in Macedonian villages and audiences will walk to nine different locations, where the events of the story will unfold,” he says.
At the end of July, he hopes to teach and launch the inaugural season of the Verona Shakespeare Fringe Festival, which he co-founded. After a return trip to Macedonia, he expects to teach at Westmont in San Francisco, work in Kazakhstan, direct “Eurydice” in Yerevan, Armenia, and return to Kazakhstan to direct “Peer Gynt.” “Presently, all of these are just plans,” he says. “I am going ahead with them and look forward to seeing how it all plays out.”
When Blondell returns to Westmont in spring 2022, he’ll teach a new course in global theater that includes insights, perspectives, experiences and approaches to theater developed in the past year, including networked theater, site-specific theater, global Shakespeare and other topics.