Miguel Piñero’s award-winning Short Eyes was written during Piñero’s incarceration in the 1970s. This gripping drama deals with the complexities of daily life in a New York State Penitentiary punctuated by an ever-looming threat of violence and shifting alliances. When a man accused of molesting a child is brought into the prison, what ensues is a search for morality and justice in an unassuming place.
Preparing for the production
The play deals with profound moral and political issues, using language and imagery very representative of its environment, a house of detention. We acknowledge that some of the content can be potentially challenging for our community. We have developed a plan meant to prepare us to engage with the nuances and complexities of such an artistically potent piece of writing. Our goal in the course of our work is to encourage transparency and agency. Throughout the process, we have constantly made sure that all parties involved – actors, designers and production team alike – are fully informed and empowered to make the right decisions for themselves.
Short Eyes was selected by FMT’s Play Selection Committee for the 2022/23 season. The committee comprised three faculty members and three students.
The play was suggested as one of a number presented to the Play Selection Committee by a group of students of color who had already been involved in productions in the department and wanted to improve representation in our main-stage play selection.
The decision to do Short Eyes was voted unanimously by all the committee members. The play fit most of the criteria we were looking for: it was brilliantly written; it was authored by a person of color; it had several meaty roles for our students; and it had a racially diverse cast of characters. It fit well with what we believed was shaping up to be a very issue-based season of plays.
All actors were given access to the play to read before deciding whether or not to audition. This is not customary practice for us as a department.
On the first day of rehearsal, Erica Weathers, LICSW joined us to talk to the cast and crew and take steps to mitigate any potential issues that might arise from being triggered or activated as a result of the play. She also provided the group with all available resources on campus they can rely on.
We have secured the services of Boston-based Kayleigh Kane to come work with the cast as an intimacy director. The intimacy director, on a film crew or in a theater production, facilitates work on moments that are sexual or intimate in nature, aiding in choreographing those moments while ensuring the emotional well-being and physical safety of all involved.
Sean Evelyn (Truth) is an accomplished writer, spoken-word artist, and storyteller. He was incarcerated in Massachusetts from 2007–September, 2022 and has earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts in Boston University’s Prison Education Program. Truth’s work has been exhibited in the Race, Prison, Justice Arts gallery at Boston University. He has spoken at numerous academic conferences and other high-profile public events through the prison telephone. We’re engaging Truth as a resource person on the incarceration system and an artist for the following:
- He will be visiting our cast for a discussion.
- He will also be on a panel for the symposium on the play
- He will also join us for one night of the production when he will perform some of his work as a curtain raiser and be a part of the talkback
Community engagement opportunities
Transcript of Community Discussion
Program: Community Conversations on WMHC 91.5 FM
Date: Wednesday, November 2, 2022 from 4–5pm
Host: Jen Thornquest
Heidi Holder, dramaturg and visiting lecturer, FMT
Michael Ofori, director and visiting lecturer, FMT
Liz Almonte, assistant director FMT '24
Jen Thornquest: Community conversations, if you're just tuning in with us is, a Wednesday show and it is important that you chime in because we're having conversations that you're asking for. This community conversation hour, shines a light on orgs on campus showcases interviews with students, staff, staff, faculty. Our job here is just to elevate voices that we want to have heard here on our public radio station. At this time, it's important for me to note that the opinions expressed on this next program don't necessarily reflect the views held by Mount Holyoke College, its students or trustees. I think we'll get started right away with our first interview of this semester. I'm welcoming into the station right now folks from the film, media and theater department. They're going to get started talking right away about well, let me just tell you, I'm going to let them share. Help me welcome here in the station. This is Michael Ofori, our director of an upcoming show. Welcome, Michael.
Michael Ofori: Welcome, welcome. Thank you, thank you.
Jen Thornquest: One more time, technical Jennifer didn't even turn on your mic, so let's say hello again, Michael. Welcome.
Michael Ofori: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Jen Thornquest: So Michael, tell me a little bit about what this showcase play symposium feels like there's a lot coming our way. Tell us where it is beginning.
Michael Ofori: Um, Short eyes. So this is a play written by Miguel Piñero. It was written in the 1970s. The play is set in a New York detention center. It's a time where there are these different men in the detention center, some awaiting trial, some are waiting, hoping to go home, some probably moving to state prisons. And so there are different stages in their lives. And out of nowhere comes this person, this man, this white man in a suit who just changes the entire dynamic in the whole space. And everybody's lives change. I don't want to spoil it for everybody. I want to leave a little bit of the details so that people can come and find out in Rook Theater on November.
Jen Thornquest: You're going Michael, right, for the questions I was just going to have for you…
Michael Ofori: Yeah.
Jen Thornquest: …because you are engaging me. I forgot that I was even in an interview right now. I'm like, hold up, tell me more about this story. But this story, how's it going to be portrayed here on that holiday campus. Like, let's say there's someone that's listening right now. We have no idea. Is this a show? Is this a podcast? Is this live theater?
Michael Ofori: This is a live theater.
Jen Thornquest: Great.
Michael Ofori: But the wonderful thing about this is that this is something that's slightly beyond what we usually do on our main stage. And we're contextualizing this performance with a symposium together with talkbacks after each show because there's so much packed into this show that I think just doing a theater production on its own doesn't do it justice. And so we're creating the opportunity for the whole community to engage with this piece of text that we think is one of the most influential pieces of theater to come out of the 20th century.
Jen Thornquest: Michael, thank you so much. I do want you to know, if you're listening in the station right now, there's some other folks that are here to talk with me. So Michael, I'm just going to ask you to bow out for just a second and have our next person just introduce who you are, what you're doing, how are you a part of this project. Welcome, Heidi.
Heidi Holder: Thank you very much. It's nice to be here, Jen. And great to have a chance to talk about the work of Miguel Piñero, a very important figure in his day, rather a sensational figure. This is someone who was born in Puerto Rico in 1946, moved to New York City when he was about four years old. He had a very rough time after his father left the family. They were very poor. He started stealing food. He was first arrested at eleven. He had a long arrest record and was in and out of various institutions and much of his life. And he connected with a group called The Family, which was a theater group, and it was devoted to prison theater and the development of work by prisoners and ex convicts. So Piñero, who was also a poet as well as a playwright, knew a lot about institutions. So you shouldn't be surprised that this is very much a play that tries to capture prison life. So it's a very harsh play. There's a lot of harsh language. There is violence in this play. But one of the things that's really interesting about it is that it's really also focused on the individual, individual responsibility and morality, the moral dilemmas of all of these characters who are really wonderfully realized and sort of what happens to them as individuals, as human beings when they are confronting this character. And I should reveal at this point that we do have a pedophile character in the play and that sets off a lot of the action that sort of builds up speed and takes on a lot of power. Piñero worked up this play for an ex prisoner's workshop. It was actually it was first seen in prison. Someone from the New York Times saw it, loved it, it got an off-off Broadway show, then moved to the Public Theater, a major off Broadway venue, and it ended up on Broadway. It is the first play by a Puerto Rican playwright to go to Broadway and was sort of a major success, but also a little bit of a scandal. There were people walking out and not knowing what to make of the play. It does kind of put the audience in a bit of a moral dilemma, as people will see. They attend the show. And if you want more details, there will be a symposium as well, which we will give you more details on a little later.
Jen Thornquest: Let me stop you right there. Listeners if you're just tuning in, you're listening to WHMHC South Hadley on 91 Five. This is, of course, Mount Holyoke's public radio station and you're listening to Community Conversations. And so far we've been chatting with both the director and the dramaturg and faculty member Heidi Holder and Michael Ofori talking about an upcoming production called Short Eyes. Miguel Piñero's play, Short Eyes in a performance that will take place here on Mount Holyoke campus November 18 and November 19. And we're just having a conversation about what about this play and why this play. So let me welcome up to the microphone next assistant director, a student here at Mount Holyoke College. Liz, come on up. Tell us a little bit about why this play and why now.
Liz Almonte: Yeah, hello. I mean, first I got involved with the play before it was chosen and I was lucky enough to be a part of a group of students that were recommending a variety of plays and productions written by pop playwrights in our mission in the department to continue to do the work of representing the BIPOC community. And so I think that shortage was one of those plays that we put on there because of what Heidi was saying and looking at the individual and looking at the morality of all these characters and like, the decisions that all these men have to make in this space. And it kind of came to after collecting all of these plays that we were very interested in with Short Eyes being on the top of the list, we sent it to the play Selection Committee, which is a body on this campus that helps decide what the plays are. So Michael.
Jen Thornquest: Yeah. Oh, my gosh, I would love to have Michael, the director jump right back in. Tell us yes. Michael is like, if you're not here in the studio with me, I want you to envision people so passionate. Like, the energy in this room is like, no, no, my turn. I want to tell you so much more about what's happening as we talk about Short Eyes.
Michael Ofori: So this is where I put my other hat on as director of productions for Rook Theater and also as a member of the play selection committee. Yes. We were really happy when this play was presented to us. Basically, the work of the play Selection Committee is to decide the season for Film Media Theater for our main stage productions for the upcoming year. So Short Eyes was chosen last year and basically the committee is made up of six people—three faculty members, three students—all with equal voting rights. And typically we usually have about one student that is going to direct a play the following year. We add that student, too, so that they have a chance to actually select what they are interested in. This process involved pretty much everybody thinking about what we wanted to see on our main stage this year. If we can all remember in the past couple of years, there has been a wave of anti racism work done in a lot of academic institutions, and our school is no different. Our students took it upon themselves to make actually demands of the department what they wanted to see on our main stage. And so for us in the play selection committee, we thought that it was our responsibility to make sure that we were representing the voice of our students. Let's see, Short Eyes and a bunch of other players were on the list that were presented to us. What we did was we asked our students, well, what do you want to see on our main stage? And we took a certain few things into consideration. A balanced season, something that represented more BIPOC students, something that had roles that were meaningful for our students, something that could have been challenging for our students. And obviously, considering that we were coming out of a very dark time, everybody had been stuck inside, we thought, oh, let's find something that was a little light. Short Eyes was not that play.
Jen Thornquest: Okay, that is not what I'm not here today.
Michael Ofori: Right.
Jen Thornquest: We're not going to go into a light heart performance, Michael. Is that true?
Michael Ofori: No. Short Eyes was a part of a season that we thought was a little bit balanced. So we've just closed The Sweet Science of Bruising, which is not light either, but it's fun. It's engaging. We had packed houses the whole Friends and Family weekend. Everybody that came to the shows loved it. And we're anticipating that Short Eyes is going to be a little bit more challenging than the The Sweet Science of Bruising. And then after that, in the shows that we have upcoming, there are other shows that are a little bit lighter. The Moors, I think, has a little bit more lightness to it. Our plan really was to make sure that we represented these things. We gave our students roles that were meaningful, that we represented voices that were otherwise not represented in our department, and that especially our design students as well, find opportunities for them to design that we're challenging our actors roles that we're challenging, and in all, to have a balanced season.
Jen Thornquest: I'm going to stop you right there just for a moment, Michael, for us to take a quick break. Listeners will be right back after this break to discuss a little bit more about this film, media and theater department's presentation of Short eyes. Stay tuned.
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Jen Thornquest: Welcome back, everyone. We are right here in the middle of community Conversations, which is a show that happens every Wednesday from four to five here on WMHC. It's important for you to remember that the opinions expressed on this program don't necessarily reflect the views that are held by Mount Holyoke College trustees, staff or students, but they are definitely opinions and stories that I feel like, as your host today, should be heard. And so if you are a listener right now and you're saying, I wish I knew how to get on the air with Jen on Wednesdays, there's a lot of ways that you can do that. You can email the WMHC email address. You can find me. I'm Jen Thornquest. You can just find me somewhere in the email ethos out there at Mount Holyoke. I'd love to have a community conversation with you. We're in the studio here. We've been chatting with Liz and Heidi and Michael, who are from the Film, Media and Theater department here on campus, and they're discussing an upcoming performance. And the show is called Short Eyes. It's by Miguel Piñero. And I'm just about to chat with our student director. Liz, welcome back. Sorry about that. Liz, welcome back. Yeah, we want to hear your voice.
Liz Almonte: Hi.
Jen Thornquest: Okay, Rad. Liz, before we get back to the play, will you just tell me a little bit about you? Like, where are you in your Mount Holyoke journey?
Liz Almonte: Yeah, so I'm a Film, Media and Theater major. I'm currently on the teaching licensure track. So I want to direct. I want to teach theater. That's the goal. That's the dream. I was lucky enough to see this play be chosen, a play that I recommended and…
Jen Thornquest: Okay, wait, tell me about that. Why this play? Why you had a voice in choosing? Why this play? Why now? Why at Mount Holyoke campus. Can you explain a little bit of that process to me?
Liz Almonte: Yeah, I think definitely the process for us was thinking about, at least for me as an Afro Latinx member of the Mount Holyoke community, I thought it was super important to have a representation of the Latinx community and of Latinx playwrights. And Miguel Piñero was somebody that I thought about because of the aliveness of this play. And I think that some people may feel that it's way too close to reality, but sometimes that's exactly what it needs to be.
Jen Thornquest: Will you put me in the shoes of an audience member? What can we expect? Is this a long play? Are there breaks? Are these short excerpts of a longer piece? Tell me a little bit about what to expect as an audience member.
Liz Almonte: Yeah, so I think that Heidi and Michael can probably get into that a little bit more.
Jen Thornquest: For sure.
Liz Almonte: Our play was we have selected scenes that are happening, but overall, it is telling the overall story of the play. And for an audience member, it's going to feel vignette. It's going to feel like you're getting in and out of the moments in the lives of these people. And it's going to feel extremely intimate. And I think just preparing yourself before entering the space to not only be in the lives of these people, but be in the minds and be in the bodies and be in the hearts of these people and slowly to start to understand why and how and for whatever reason they make decisions. So maybe you could have Michael.
Jen Thornquest: Yeah, actually, I'm going to invite Michael or right back up to the microphone. But Liz, thank you for that. Just to get to know a little bit about who you are as a student and how you're in that process of the selection. I appreciate your insight there. So Michael is back at the mic, and you should see the little dance we're doing in here in the studio. If you haven't been into the WMHC studio. We are doing a little dance. It's a small space and we're making it work. And we're on air just chatting again with Michael, who's directing this upcoming show. So, Michael, what do you want to tell me?
Michael Ofori: You know, what's funny actually, about this is you're talking about a little dance that we're doing in this tiny space. And that's honestly, that's what the lives of these men in the play feel like.
Jen Thornquest: Okay, tell me about that.
Michael Ofori: When we chose the play, obviously, if you zoom out from the perspective of the department and the play selection committee, there were these things that I had mentioned prior that we were looking for. But then when I put on my director's hat, the first question I ask myself is, well, okay, why is this play relevant now? We had all come out of a period where a lot of us… I moved to Western Massachusetts, September 2019.
Jen Thornquest: Oh, you did? So you're new to Western Match, right, also.
Michael Ofori: And then by what, March 2020, we were, the world changed, and our idea of community also changed. Or for some, maybe it didn't change, maybe it got consolidated, or for some, we looked for new ways of forming community. What this whole play is about is about community. These men are in a space where there are no secrets. Nobody can hide anything from anybody because there is no privacy. And so for a community like that to thrive, there needs to be a set of rules, set of principles that guide that kind of community. And that's what this play is about. So when we first chose it, I was wondering, what is it about this play, besides the fact that there's so much packed in there, so much packed in there that you could not even begin to imagine how many questions the playwright asks the audience.
Jen Thornquest: Can I interrupt you in that vein of thinking? I know, because I know the schedule that's coming, is that there's not only two play performances that can be seen at the Rook Theater, both on Friday night, November 18, and Saturday, November 19, but there's going to be some Q and A talkbacks. There's going to be a symposium. So somebody in the room, tell me a little bit more about these opportunities where we can not only see these excerpts, vignettes, like Liz said, of the lives of the men that are captured in this story, but also, like, we want to hear more about what you're talking about. Mike and I feel like we're going to get an opportunity to do that so somebody in the room talk to me about the symposium.
Michael Ofori: I think Heidi can say more about that.
Jen Thornquest: That would be great. If you're just joining us, this is Heidi Holder, dramaturg and a faculty member, discussing our conversation about Miguel Piñero's play Short Eyes. And tell me about the symposium.
Heidi Holder: Symposium we're doing. OK. On the Friday, Friday the 18, we are going to be offering between 4 and 5:30 symposium at Rook Theater to talk about Piñero and the play, and Michael and Liz and I will be there. We also have Cass Sever from the Sociology Department, Sean Evelyn, known as Truth, who is a former prisoner and will be giving us a more inside perspective. And Professor Suzanne Daly from the English department at UMass who teaches the literature of incarceration.
Jen Thornquest: Wow. So we're really, in context, a community project, not just discussing the elements of community in the lives of the folks that would have been a part of this story, but also quite a community effort here. I'm pleased to hear that. In fact, if you're listening and you're wishing that other people were hearing this interview, I'm going to make it accessible to the community to hear this live interview. You'll be able to find it on the Mixlr app, and then I'll give it to the Film, Media and Theater Department to do whatever it is they'd like to do. And we do have about five more minutes of our interview, so I know that if there's some listeners, I've got some people who are chiming in on the mixer chat that are giving furious snaps to our interviewees right now and some definite applauses and loving to hear this conversation. So if you're listening and you want to drop a line, say something to our interviewees, do that, and then no one ever calls the station, but I'm going to give you a chance to do that in the event. In the last five or seven minutes of our interview, you want to pose a question, you can ring in at 413-538-2044. In the meantime, what else do we want to talk about with our time here? With regard to Short Eyes.
Heidi Holder: I wanted to bring up just a couple of things, and one has to do with the why again. Great. This is a play about imprisonment, and it's written at a time when maybe there are around 200,000 people incarcerated in the United States, and now they're around 2 million. So it's written just as we're entering into the period of mass incarceration, we imprison more people than anyone in the world. Our incarceration rate is the highest. So it really seems to be an issue that we should be thinking about. But I would also suggest that some of the problems in the play will be very kind of familiar to our students. This won't be an alien world entirely. These are characters who are kind of interested in doing the right thing and not be seen as doing the wrong thing. And that's something our students, I think, can connect with. It's also about why people attack each other. The motivations of the characters are quite complex. So how do you make a mob, whether it's like, at the Capital or on Twitter, but how you make a mob is kind of interesting to us these days. So how people turn someone into a target or make prey out of another human being. So there are issues that are big and very small both in the play. So that's what I want to put across.
Jen Thornquest: I'm really, really glad that you said that and you shared that. Heidi, as a sociology major, I am interested in really understanding some of these concepts and themes that you've been discussing, and I appreciate that. I'm certainly entertained, thought provoking asking bigger questions about why society operates in the way that it does. But also last night I was just at a Town Hall here at Senate where there were topics that are heated that were discussed, and we had to make a decision about how, as a community, we can navigate complex, fraught topics that are hard to walk through as a community. And so I think you're right, we are navigating that as a country. We're navigating that as a community here on campus. And I'm eager to see how the characters navigate that in the vignettes you're going to share with us. I think I have just one last kind of point I wanted to get to. I really quick just want to hit the bullet points of, again, reviewing what we're talking about and how you can see it. So the performances of the selected scenes from Miguel Piñero's play Short Eyes will be at 7:30 pm, beginning on Friday, November 18. Saturday, November 19, the show begins at 7:30 pm. With Q and A talk packs to follow. However, if you're interested in coming to the symposium that these folks were discussing, that's going to be Friday, November 18, at 4 pm. in the Rook Theater, and all the events are free, open to the public. However, reservations are required, so we know how many folks are going to be there. Will somebody tell me how we can make that reservation? Instagram page? Yes. Okay. Get in there, Liz. Come on. Tell me where to find it.
Liz Almonte: Yeah, I was going to say it's in the link on our Instagram page mhc underscore fmt. And also just look out for some messages and posts from the cast about our current process.
Michael Ofori: Yeah, you can also there's FMT's usual ticket reservation site. We use a Ludus system. Just think of it like how you'd get a ticket from an FMT show that you're paying for, but except this time you're not paying anything and you can reserve tickets through the exact same system. The play itself, the scenes that we've selected run for a little over an hour and 15 minutes, I would say, and then we have ample time for conversations after that.
Jen Thornquest: That is amazing. I do think that while we're just about to be leaving the air, I know that there could be some potential trigger warning or content warning. Would someone like to speak to that as they're preparing to come to the show?
Heidi Holder: Okay, yes, there are trigger warnings for this play. There is violence, there is sexual assault, there is, excuse me. OK. I'm actually being handed our official trigger warnings: representation of incarcerated people, pedophilia, sexual harassment, racial slurs, homophobic slurs, transphobic slurs. So there's a lot to deal with in this play. So we don't want anyone coming and being surprised if this is not for you. We are making this clear on the advertisements and also at the theater itself before you enter so no one will come across anything out of the blue here.
Jen Thornquest: Great.
Heidi Holder: That's been important to us.
Jen Thornquest: Yes, thank you for bringing this incredible show here to campus and at a time that you have really postured as being the right time to be telling these stories. And I appreciate having Heidi, Liz and Michael from the Film Media and Theater Department right here in the studio just spending time with me, spending time with you. And so please, please tell your friends if this is something that they should see, not to miss this presentation of Short Eyes on November 18 and 19 coming up. And with that, I'm going to say goodbye to our guests and round out the hour with just one more message and a quick song. And then you can keep tuning in here for what's next on our WMHC programming. Thanks so much. Heidi, Michael and Liz.
Talk-backs followed each performance.
Posters provided information on playwright Miguel Piñero, the Nuyorican Poets movement, the origins and production history of the play (including Mount Holyoke’s own 1997 production), and the representation of prison life on stage and screen.
The Department of Film Media Theater oversees an innovative, project-based curriculum that integrates practices of critical study with production and performance in the fields of film, media and theater.
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