Alex Turner, ’15, a theatre major and education minor, spent a great deal of time on stage at Richmond, performing in Department of Theatre and Dance productions and in the improv group Subject to Change. The culmination of his studies was The Law of Identity, a solo performance piece he researched and developed over the course of a year.
Could you describe your project?
The Law of Identity is a one-person play that explores the ways in which we define ourselves, specifically with respect to racial identification and sexual orientation. This work primarily features voices from two Virginia-based court cases: Loving v. Virginia (1967), which ensured the constitutionality of interracial marriage and miscegenation across the nation, and Bostic v. Schaefer (2014), which argued for marriage equality in the state of Virginia. In a collage of historical reenactment, modern monologue, and song, the play questions how the eclectic pieces of our personal identities intersect.
What was your inspiration for creating the performance?
I started this project with the broad goal of learning how to playwright and perform using archival research. The Loving v. Virginia case turned out to be my primary source. Not only had this case been notably researched by our University’s president Edward Ayers, it also made it possible for my parents to marry in the state of Virginia. I liked the idea of honoring them and the history that made our family possible. This research on Loving would later lead me to the Bostic case (relevant to me as a gay Virginian) and the exploration of identity politics
What was the process of putting the performance together?
It took approximately a year. My preliminary research began in the spring 2014 in a course offered by Dr. Patricia Herrera. I studied performance theory and the work of respected solo performers. Fall 2014 was almost exclusively used for research and conceptual development. In spring 2015, I drafted, rehearsed, and refined a formal script, and the first public performance was on April 28, 2015 in the Cousins Studio Theatre.
What did you enjoy most about the process?
My archival research was particularly eye opening, so I would say that this period of discovery was the most enjoyable.
Some of the performance consisted of text and quotes from individuals involved with the court cases. Were there any quotes that really resonated with you?
When asked why she would go through such a strenuous process of litigation, Mildred Loving answered by saying, “It’s the principle, it’s the law. I don’t think it’s right.” Her strength and poise is stunning.
Did members of the theatre department faculty provide support and advice throughout the process?
I could not have done this without my faculty mentors, Dr. Dorothy Holland and Dr. Patricia Herrera. Not only did these remarkable artists teach me the ropes of solo performance, they served as a sounding board for scholarly discussion of my research. Our in-depth talks gave me the clarity and confidence to build this piece.
What was the experience like of presenting the performance, something that you had conceived of and developed yourself that represented your point of view?
Extremely nerve-wracking. In performance, you keep waiting for the next person to say a line and that moment never comes — very odd. While it was comforting to speak the words of others, I felt a tremendous responsibility to tell this story correctly since the ideas belonged to actual people. I wanted to represent them fairly.
Do you have plans to continue to work on the project and perform it again?
With the Supreme Court’s verdict on marriage equality due in late June, I am hoping to expand the piece to include voices from the current Obergefell v. Hodges case this summer. The new edition will then find its way back onstage.
Now that you’ve graduated, what’s next for you?
I have just signed on as an Allen Lee Hughes Fellow at Arena Stage for the 2015–16 season. As a teaching artist, I will be helping D.C.-area students to study and experience theater, while assisting them in creating work of their own.