Graceland University’s Theatre Department is hosting a guest artist. Jody Hovland, cofounder and former Artistic Director of Iowa City’s professional company, Riverside Theatre, will have been on campus for six weeks at the completion of the upcoming production of W;t, in which Hovland will play the lead.
W;t is a 1999 Pulitzer Prize winning one-act play written by Margaret Edson. The theatrical work is directed by Graceland’s Professor of Theatre, Gary Heisserer, PhD. In addition to the lead, the play’s cast is an exciting mix of students and faculty, and ranges from seasoned professionals to students who have never been onstage before. Since he first saw W;t produced Off-Broadway in New York City in 2000, Heisserer has wanted to direct the play.
When Graceland’s theatre professors – Heisserer, Tracy Salter and Seth Campbell – set out last spring to select a season of productions, their goal was to represent a diverse selection of work they felt was best for the students and the community. There was no question W;t fit that criteria. Gary met actor and director Jody Hovland through an organization called the National New Play Network (NNPN), of which Hovland is currently an Ambassador, and the two struck up an acquaintance and mutual respect for each other’s work.
Heisserer previously saw Hovland present a staged reading at the Kennedy Center as part of an MFA playwriting program and knew she would be extremely well suited for the role. For Hovland, it was an easy sell. She already had experience in the part of Dr. Vivian Bearing, having played the character in a professional performance of the play produced by her own theatre company. However, this time around, she brings a relatable experiences to the role after facing breast cancer four years after the first performance.
Dr. Vivian Bearing is learning to suffer. A patient undergoing treatment for stage 4 ovarian cancer, she has become the subject of research for the oncologists and clinical fellows caring for her. Her prognosis grim, she finds kindness and compassion in her primary care nurse, Susie. Vivian relates to the audience in a combination of flashbacks and monologues about being an uncompromising scholar while a professor, then she shifts to holding onto whatever dignity she has left in her plight against the unforgiving disease. In true, witty form, Vivian gets the last laugh. W;t is chock-full of ironies around every turn and cleverly leaves its audience amused.
Heisserer has been working with the cast on practice of voice projection, line delivery and timing for the production. When asked about what specific benefits working with a guest artist brings to his students, he stated, “It has been an incredible experience working with Jody on the production. She has brought a level of professionalism to our department that has rubbed off on all of us. She also has shown us that striving for the highest standards of artistic excellence can wonderfully coexist with kindness, compassion and collegiality. Her contribution to our department will be felt long after she returns home.”
After 34 years working along-side her husband and business partner, Ron Clark, and 30 years as a Distinguished Artist-in-Residence at Cornell College, Jody and her husband have delved into freelancing, and travel the country doing what they love: performing live theatre.
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