Boston University’s College of Fine Arts Keyword Initiative is in its third year. Creativity blossoms within limitation, and this initiative seeks to direct our artistry within a specific container. The keyword engages a specific theme across the medium of music, visual arts, and theatre while laying the grounds for the resultant discussion and a further understanding of the theme itself. The Keyword for the 2013/2014 season is TRANSFORMATION. The CFA will present works “focusing on profound shifts in individuals and society,” and we are encouraged to engage the work with this theme in mind. Last year the keyword was RESILIENCE, and the inaugural initiative was keyword: VIOLENCE. As the keyword initiative settles into tradition, I find that the keywords themselves speak to one another. Within the initiative we track a journey from trouble, to strife to rebirth. Sounds like a good play to me.
I arrived at the CFA during the initiative’s inaugural year. I remember feeling certain skepticism towards keyword: VIOLENCE. As a new, doe-eyed freshman I didn’t quite know how this theme was intended to sit with me. It was certainly provoking, if not entirely abrasive. But by February, I found myself in the thick of Jim Petosa’s compelling production of Monster by Neal Bell from the Boston Center for American Performance (BCAP), which was the CFA’s theatrical contribution to keyword: VIOLENCE. I distributed programs and manned the snack bar throughout the productions three week run, but was lucky enough to see the production numerous times. The world of the play was a stark one, aided by the intimacy of the Lane-Comely Studio 210, and as a student of the CFA, I felt part of a critical exploration within the school. From my experience, the keyword initiative greatly succeeds in doing what great art strives for: to engage the audience in thoughtful discussion and contextualize the performance in our current world.
In seeing Jim Petosa’s most recent production of The Elephant Man, which closed last weekend at New Rep, I thought a lot about this seasons keyword. Although it was not produced by the CFA, themes of Transformation rang out in all aspects of this performance. Transformation is at the heart of Merrick’s journey from exploited side-show to regarded member of society. I also found myself thinking a lot about Monster, which is no surprise; my professors Michael Kaye and Tim Spears were once again under the direction of Jim Petosa, the director of the School of Theater and an innovator in the keyword initiative. Indeed the aesthetic of Elephant Man echoed Monster in its minimalistic sleek black and clean lines; the content too was similar, exploring the life of the Doctor – portrayed by Kaye in both productions – and his experience with a deeply disturbing patient. As a student of the CFA who was involved with monster and is given this keyword to meditate on I find these parallels striking and can only assume that they are intentional, though I am not entirely sure to what end. The themes of violence and transformation are certainly central to the production and do engage a critical discussion relevant to our world today.