Brawley Fund allows student to film documentary abroad

By: Saba Davis

Contributing Writer

Ever heard of the Brawley Fund?  No, it’s not the University’s answer to Fight Club.  The Brawley Fund was established by E.M. Brawley, who graduated in 1875 as the University’s first African-American student.  He created the fund to provide monetary support to underrepresented students for various research and internship opportunities.

This past summer, theatre major and Brawley Fund recipient Diego M. Chiri ’12 traveled to Scotland to film a documentary that captured the making of the play “The American Family.” The film was a collaborative project between the University and Western Washington University students.  The play  included many of the performers’ personal stories, such as coming out to parents, dealing with the effects of divorce, going to a grandfather’s funeral, or personal traumas from childhood.

What is particularly interesting about Chiri’s experience is that he witnessed an experimental method of theatre production called “devising.”  His documentary gives some insight into “devising” and its application, Chiri said. The “devising” technique promotes equality so producers and directors don’t rely on the previously-established hierarchy of writers, he said.

“There is no director at first, just performers exploring time and exploring space … they become the writers. The text is not the most important thing; instead we start with a concept, a question or a desire.”  Performers were trained by the renowned Andy Paris, one of the founding members of the Tectonic Theatre, a company that professionally practices the application of devising theatre techniques in the United States.

Chiri explained the special importance of the documentary for his own education by saying, “When I was told that I was going to be filming [the documentary], I didn’t want it to be just about the experience of just going to Scotland, or just footage from the play. I wanted it to have an educational purpose— in order to understand ‘The American Family’ as a play, you first need to understand how devising works as a theatre technique.” Chiri said that his documentary is about the making of a play, but there are two aspects that are especially important: the “theory of devising” and “putting the devising technique into practice, which is the play itself.” When asked if he had any advice for aspiring students, he said, “If you’re interested in theatre or filmmaking, try this technique.”

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