Controversial play explored via workshops

In preparation for OCCC’s production of Paula Vogel’s “How I Learned to Drive,” the theater department teamed up with Student Support Services and Student Life to present two sessions of informational workshops about the play.

On Nov. 12, theater Professor Brent Noel led a roundtable discussion about the play which deals with issues such as pedophilia and abuse.

“How I Learned to Drive” has been challenged by some and praised by others since its original production debut in 1997.

At the roundtable, Noel brought up the subject of whether the arts could be used to “stimulate discussion on campus” of subjects that might seem hard to talk about or may even be considered taboo.

Noel said he hoped to get students to think about “how one can utilize arts” as a way to start a healthy and helpful dialogue about “sensitive subjects.”

Students and faculty discussed what is considered art and what the benefits of the arts — specifically theater ­— are.

Participants discussed art as an outlet, the therapeutic effects of practicing or viewing art, and the benefit of literature and art in allowing students to explore and learn about themselves as well as others.

Brenda Valencia, Occupational Therapy Assistant major, said she supports the arts as a creative outlet for real-life issues and advocates discussions about hard-hitting issues at OCCC because “[School] is a safe setting,” for such conversations to take place.

On Nov. 13, two members of the cast presented a monologue and scene from the play and then sat down with Noel to give students some insight as to what it’s like to be a part of putting on a play like “How I Learned to Drive.”

They explained how the production helped them gain insight into their role as spectators.

Noel asked attendees to consider the boundaries of comfort and discomfort the audience will be faced with, and what those boundaries mean.

“One of the ways you get people out of their comfort zone is to [present them with] something that is going to give them a bit of a jolt,” Noel said.

“It happens in class when I try to get students to think in new ways. It happens in the theater when I’m trying to get young actors to react.

“We’re … taught to limit our reactions and to hide our feelings, and in the theater, it’s the opposite. We want to bring those out.”

He said there’s a fine line between being provocative and pushing the limit. Noel asked attendees to consider why certain things make them uncomfortable and to seek out value and learning in that discomfort.

He said being forced to look at something, such as the sensitive content in the play, from an objective stance like that of an audience member can be a learning experience for them.

“How I Learned To Drive” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 21 through 23 in the Bruce Owen Theater.

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