ISU Theatre's 'Perform the Protest' shares the power of art to amplify voices, issues and understanding

Promotional graphic for ISU Theatre production

In a world where so much has happened in a short period of time, how do people give voice to issues they care about? ISU Theatre's "Perform the Protest: A Theatre Action for Our Time" will explore how the universal language of art can help people better hear and understand one another. The production will be presented daily Sept. 23-26 in a multidimensional series of live outdoor and virtual performances. 

ISU Theatre's ensemble will share protests created through an intensive workshopping process and performed through public speaking, acting, singing, performance and design. "Perform the Protest" is facilitated by Tiffany Johnson, Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean's Artist-in-Residence and artistic director of the Des Moines-based Pyramid Theatre Company, Iowa's only Black theater organization. 

"Sometimes it becomes difficult to give voice to issues in real time and space because of the impact one faces in the sharing of that voice," Johnson said. "We become paralyzed at times because we don't know what to do, or we may feel that if we do utilize that voice then the penalty may be greater than the effect. This theater action is designed to give life to a person's voice and utilize art as the vehicle to deliver it. This is an opportunity to exemplify how art becomes a universal language, allowing us to better hear and understand each other." 

The cast began workshopping their protests via Zoom collaborations in early September, looking at topics ranging from voting rights to immigration. The protests will be performed as solos or physically distanced small groups. Part of their process and challenge, Johnson said, is figuring out how to convey human emotion in virtual space.

"One meaning of protest is that it's a way for people to speak out about an established norm that has set itself in society," said Scyler Torrey, performing arts senior. "I really like using my voice, performative experience and storytelling to uplift voices that either get drowned out or don't have the support systematically to be heard."

'Perform the Protest' performances

All performances are "pay what you will" admission. Each performance will last 30-40 minutes. Attendees should practice the Cyclones Care behaviors. 

  • Wednesday, Sept. 23 and Friday, Sept. 25 (6:30 p.m., Campanile south lawn)
  • Thursday, Sept. 24 (6:30 p.m., Fisher Theater lawn)
  • Saturday, Sept. 26 (4:30 p.m., Fisher Theater lawn)
  • Sept. 26-Oct. 2, via video on demand (links will be posted online)

The innovative 2020-21 season

"Perform the Protest" is part of ISU Theatre's 2020-21 "Season of Invitation" designed to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though productions will not be performed live inside Fisher Theater, ISU Theatre sees opportunities for new innovation, imagination and invention.

 "The pandemic presents a challenge for live theater, and yet while Fisher Theater goes dark, the show goes on," said Brad Dell, director of ISU Theatre. "We are planning to light up new pathways for performance this fall. This is a time to imagine new ways of being -- as artists, as audiences and as humanity."

ISU Theatre also is emphasizing an antiracism curriculum and production season this year. 

"We are thrilled Tiffany Johnson is joining us for this exciting season and contributing to these critical and urgent conversations," Dell said. "Our program is committed to fostering greater representation, equity and justice in our program at all levels. Tiffany is a dynamic and inspiring artist, educator and advocate who has dedicated her life to making central Iowa a more safe, just and welcoming place for all. We are excited for our students to be mentored by an award-winning artist who is deeply respected in the Iowa arts community." 

Along with "Perform the Protest," Johnson will lead a multidisciplinary lecture series throughout the academic year, focusing on the history of Black theater in the U.S. and her experiences as a Black leader in Iowa.