After a year of preparation, Saginaw Valley State University this month will bring the play “Safe” to audiences in a worldwide premiere.
The play is part of a collaboration with Road Less Traveled Productions, a professional theater company based in Buffalo, New York. In 2014, the company agreed to work with SVSU’s theatre department, which will put the play on stage for the first time. Road Less Traveled plans to follow with its own production of “Safe” in March.
Throughout the process, SVSU theatre students have worked with the play's award-winning author, Donna Hoke. Her work has been commissioned, produced, and/or developed in 34 states and five continents. She makes her artistic home as an ensemble playwright at Road Less Traveled Productions, which has hosted productions that included Hollywood actors such as Alec Baldwin and James Rebhorn.
For writing “Safe,” Hoke won the 2014 Todd McNerney National Playwriting Contest, 2014 Naatak National Playwriting Contest, and the 2015 Great Gay Play and Musical Contest. The script also was a finalist for the T. Schreiber New Works Competition, and a semi-finalist at both nuVoices at Actors Theatre of Charlotte and the 37th Bay Area Playwrights Festival.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for us,” said Dave Rzeszutek, SVSU associate professor of theatre and director of the SVSU production. “We're working with a new script and having direct contact with the playwright.”
In fact, Hoke has already made changes to the script based on watching SVSU students rehearse the play.
In “Safe,” a young gay teen hangs himself in 2011 – but the events leading to the suicide began decades before, in 1986, when bullies tormented Nancy and her best friend. Twenty-five years later, the cycle continues when Nancy is confronted by another bully – her son. The show exhibits the pain and strength that reside in the hearts and minds of those who experience bullying.
“The play has themes of bullying, self-worth, guilt and suicide,” Rzeszutek said.
Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, Nov. 18-21. A matinee is planned for 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22. All shows are hosted in SVSU's Malcolm Field Theatre for Performing Arts. Tickets cost $13 for the general public and $10 for senior citizens and students.
The cast includes five SVSU students. Tristian Evanoff, a theatre major from Kalamazoo, plays the lead, Nancy.
Rounding out the rest of the cast are:
• Cassandra Graham, a pre-social work major from Memphis, Michigan
• Joseph Green, a theatre major from Shelby Township
• Carl Mizell, a theatre major from Flint
• Zach Wood, a theatre major from Flushing
For more information or to order tickets, contact the Box Office at (989) 964-4261 or visit http://www.svsu.edu/theatre/showschedule/.
Photo depicts playwright Hoke (left) and SVSU’s Rzeszutek (right).