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//A SENIOR HONORS THESIS PROJECT IN PLAYWRITING
BY LELA GANNON '18
The Houses with Ramps. All photos by John Gannon.
The Houses with Ramps a new play by Lela Gannon '18
Workshop production directed by
May 25 & 26, 2018
The Houses with Ramps relates the story and history of a decades-long lead poisoning crisis in West Dallas, TX—a majority Black and Latinx community. This systematic lead poisoning was caused by a lead smelter that operated in the city from the 1930s to the 1980s. To craft this story for the stage, Lela Gannon conducted Interviews with members of the West Dallas community affected by the smelter and other industrial polluters in the city. She also con-ducted research into the legal case presented by West Dallas against the Environmental Protection Agency. In the dramatization of this hidden history, Lela sought to merge her work as a theater major and environmental studies minor and create a work that investigated the intersections between race, class, toxic in-dustrial pollution, theatrical storytelling, and social justice.
Students who have completed at least five major courses and who have an average in the major of 3.4 or higher (and a College average of 3.0 or higher) are eligible to apply for the honors program. An honors project normally extends through two terms and receives two major credits. Gannon’s project extended through three terms of work.
In the first term of her project, Gannon con-ducted extensive research about the history of West Dallas's industrial pollution and the city’s designation as an EPA Superfund Site. Most importantly, she conducted research on the RSR Corporation—the owner of the lead smelter and the city's leading polluter. She discovered a history of court cases connected to the toxicity of the RSR, including one case argued before the Supreme Court by city residents. She also learned of the leading activist figures of the community’s struggle.
Gannon wrote the play in the second term of her project, and I directed a staged reading of the new play in the third term of the project.
Pedagogy on this project included guiding the student through the Honors Thesis application process and developing a clear plan of action for a project that included conducting first-person interviews, historical research, play-writing, and dramaturgy. Playwriting pedagogy included working with Gannon to develop the play from first-person interviews and helping Gannon to shape a non-linear, yet nevertheless, historical story.Advisement also closely counseled inventive and bold, non-naturalistic staging choices.
Gannon applied for and gained funding from a wide variety of sources to conduct on the ground interviews with leading activist figures of the community's struggle--whose voices became leading characters of her play. In West Dallas, she also located and interviewed many residents who could remember the heaviest times of pollution in the city, when, quite literally, lead particulate released by the smelter rained down on the city day and night. These first-person interviews formed the core of her dramatization of the community's struggle across decades.
Mentorship and collaboration with the student included weekly one-on-one consultation meetings over the course of three academic terms.
In the third term of the project I served as director of a script-in-hand, “amplified” staged reading of the work that included scenic elements, projection, lighting, and sound. Here, Gannon switched to the role of dramaturg/ playwright and actively developed her play in the rehearsal process.