Students delved into the depths of modern-day societal and mental struggles through theater performances during SF State’s annual Greenhouse Theatre Festival.
The 21st annual Greenhouse Theatre Festival, titled “Unearthing Questions for the 21st Century,” was put on by SF State’s creative writing and theater departments, as well as Z Space, a local theater company. The festival featured plays written by four SF State graduate student playwrights and took place April 24-28 at Z Space.
According to Anne Galjour, creative writing lecturer and producer of Greenhouse, the festival gave SF State graduate students an opportunity to self-produce their work. The student playwrights are part of Galjour’s Playwright Theater Workshop class.
This year’s festival featured staged readings of four full-length plays: “Pushing Against the Water,” “Woke Wash,” “Exit Plan” and “Depression Diaries.” Each was presented twice throughout the duration of the festival.
The student playwrights involved created plays that were loaded with a variety of sensitive but important topics, from identity, to love, to suicide and depression. According to Galjour, these topics allowed the cast and audience to delve into the difficulties of humanity in the 21st century.
“This year, the plays that were selected address issues that are important right now,” Galjour said. “People have been coming to the theater for thousands of years … all the [issues] that we discuss on the streets, we are debating on stage as well.”
SF State graduate student Just Duléa presented her piece, “Depression Diaries,” on the last two days of the festival. The performance incorporated music, dance and poetry to explore the life of the protagonist, Ayodele, and her battle with depression.
Duléa said that she wanted to specifically express mental health difficulties in the Black community.
“[‘Depression Diaries’] navigates the complexity of balancing mental health and wellness within the Black community,” Duléa said. “I wanted to create something that felt like community and personal at the same time. This is about creating space.”
With a nine-person cast, Duléa created a performance which exposed Ayodele’s struggles with clinical depression derived from fights against her homosexuality and experiences with sexual assault. Depression, peace, joy, anxiety and shame were the five emotions portrayed by characters in the play.
SF State student Ashley Smiley played the character ‘Depression’ in the cast. Smiley said that she sees the disadvantage the Black community faces in seeking mental health help.
“[The Black community] cannot afford the luxury of mental illness,” Smiley said.
Smiley said that as a person who suffers from PTSD and has had depression and been on medication, depression isn’t just about being extremely sad all the time, it’s a constant mental struggle. According to Smiley, Duléa’s piece shows just that.
SF state student and cast member R. Shawntez Jackson said that the play brought together their community in a timely manner.
“[‘Depression Diaries’] is a love letter to our community,” Jackson said. “[This piece] comes in a time where it’s needed. It’s like striking a match.”
SF State graduate student playwright Lynn Mari of “Exit Plan,” the third play presented at the Greenhouse Theatre Festival, said her piece is also based on depression and suicide.
In the play, the main character struggles with the idea of suicide and is diagnosed with a serious illness.
Mari said that she was personally affected by depression, and this inspired her to write “Exit Plan.”
“The idea came out of a time when I was very depressed,” Mari said. “[I knew] I wouldn’t kill myself, so I thought that if I was diagnosed with something, it would be OK.”
In their own way, each playwright explored the human experience of the 21st century, with some plays involving racial and gender identity issues.
SF State playwright Kristen La Follette’s “Pushing Against the Water” explores the lives of six Bay Area Muslim women.
La Follette said that using separate monologues in her play showed the similarities between the experiences of Muslim women so that audience members could relate.
“[When people hear] their own experiences on stage and hear [other] people grappling with similar ideas of identity, people connect with that,” La Follette said.
Audience member and SF State graduate student Jarett Hendrickson said he enjoyed the play because it was oral history that broke down stereotypes.
“[‘Pushing Against the Water’] was a presumption buster to what we all typically think of Muslims and Muslim women,” Hendrickson said.
SF State playwright Matthew Ginsburg’s “Woke Wash” explored a different perspective of the corporate world. The play focused on the lives of a couple living in New York and trying to excel in the professional world while navigating relationship problems.
“Woke Wash” also speculates on corporate entities and their latest enhancement of social justice within advertisement.
Ginsburg’s satirical play created a human connection from character to audience member.
“[People] criticize what corporations do, but there are people in [those corporations] that are making the decisions,” Ginsburg said.
According to Ginsburg, “Woke Wash” allows the audience to put a face to these untouchable corporate entities.
According to Jackson, the Greenhouse Theatre Festival shined light on the playwrights’ individual philosophies, allowing them to create their own interpretation of today’s societal and mental struggles.
“Everyone’s vision isn’t always welcomed,” Jackson said. “Greenhouse is about exposing your power through your philosophies and expression.”