Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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‘How to Know the Wild Flowers: A Map’ encourages healing through nature

Karina Eid/The Daily Northwestern
Fanny (Communication sophomore Faith Walh) and members of the ensemble dance together on the stage of Ethel M. Barber Theater.

Wispy, vibrant flowers surrounded the seats at the Ethel M. Barber Theater Friday night, immersing the audience of “How to Know the Wild Flowers: A Map” in an interactive natural experience.

With cool air blowing into the crowd, wind sound effects whistling overhead and stark lighting, the environment closely resembled a prairie, the play’s sole setting.

Inspired by a field guide for flowers written by naturalist Frances Theodora Parsons in 1893, Communication Profs. Julie Marie Myatt and Jessica Thebus co-created “How to Know the Wild Flowers: A Map” — which runs from April 19-28 — for the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts.

Parsons’ book, titled “How to Know the Wild Flowers,” detailed her grieving the death of her husband during the Russian flu pandemic in 1889-90. She ultimately found healing through submerging herself in nature, which inspired the theme for the field guide.

In 90 minutes, the all-student cast portrayed nature’s beauty and healing power through a mix of singing and dancing. At times, the play departed from the norms of a traditional play with cast members breaking the fourth wall by speaking to the crowd.

The play centered around two parallel storylines: Parsons’ fascination with the wildflowers and a group of young people coping with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Myatt and Thebus focused on five individuals to show how pandemics inflict emotional wounds and require intense healing.

“It’s about how we can create something beautiful out of grief, how we can find healing after a tragedy,” said Communications junior Esteban Ortiz-Villacorta, a leading actor.

Myatt said many people tend to avoid revisiting the subject of COVID-19. The play attempted to serve as a reminder that people must recall past traumas to finally heal, perhaps through a connection to nature, she said.

At the very least, Myatt said, she hoped this play would serve as a wellness check, asking the audience “How are you?”

Communication sophomore Faith Walh played “Fanny,” a nickname for Parsons, in the first plotline surrounding Parsons’ life story. The leading trio in the second storyline consisted of Ortiz-Villacorta (Michael), Communication junior Anne-Sophie Lacombe Garcia (Beth) and first-year Interdisciplinary Theater and Drama Ph.D. candidate Sierra Rosetta (Anna).

Throughout the show, the characters searched for the perfect spot to scatter Michael’s grandfather’s ashes, who had died from COVID-19.

Taking advantage of the new play’s malleability, the actors infused their own quirks and identities into their characters. Rosetta incorporated her Ojibwe heritage into Anna, and Ortiz-Villacorta said he channeled the grief from his grandmother’s death during the pandemic into Michael. He also made his character Latine, naming the grandfather with his own grandmother’s last name.

“This is a character that is definitely a version of me in real life,” Ortiz-Villacorta said.

Given the play’s novelty, the cast and crew hardly knew what to expect before heading into rehearsals, Lacombe Garcia said.

Throughout the past year and a half, Myatt, Thebus and various members of the Northwestern community, including their students, collectively devised the work, making changes up to the final rehearsal from costumes to vocal pitch in songs.

“We’re a fun group of people who are willing to go with the flow,” said Lacombe Garcia.

The 18-person ensemble, who played the various wildflowers, steered away from the traditional vibrato sound of musical theater. Their performance largely featured singing and dancing with a tap sequence and student-written folk songs.

“We’re all excited to see how it’s received by the campus, because it is very different from everything else that’s done here,” Ortiz-Villacorta said. “We hope people come with an open mind.”

Email: [email protected]
X: @karinaaeidd

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