I designed the advertisements for this performance, so I wanted to see the idea come to life. I loved it so much that I gushed to my editor about it the next morning. A few hours later, he approached me and told me to write down everything I told him. So I did.
Texas Tech University theater students nail Marfa and her quirks
Originally published in the Big Bend Sentinel on August 11, 2016
MARFA – I walked into the Marfa Intensives performance on Thursday night at the Crowley Theater knowing only that the playwright Jaston Williams would perform pieces from his one-man show called “A Wolverine Walks into a Bar” and that a handful of Texas Tech University students would perform works they created based on their experiences in Marfa.
I left completely impressed.
Opening the night was Williams and he was delightful. Williams is known for his “Greater Tuna” series set in a fictional small town of Tuna, Texas. He’s given West Texas a shout out with “Blame it on Valentine, Texas,” which is six short stories based on his life.
Typically performing by himself, Williams is entertaining with perfect wit and delivery. The man has performed at the White House. Of course he was good.
The students’ play was so amazing that I can’t stop talking about it.
It was mentioned during the introduction that the students didn’t have a script when they arrived in town. The assignment was to embrace Marfa and create a play based on their experience.
And they nailed it.
They covered it all: the town’s issues, the personalities, the tourists, the art. Nothing was left out. What took me three years to figure out through my journalism job, they figured out in 11 days.
At times, the play was hilarious. In one scene, they lined up like Donald Judd’s 100 works in mill aluminum and spoke as if they were the art.
“No one asks the art how they feel,” one actor said.
Bottom line – don’t touch the art.
In another scene, six students lined up as one of Dan Flavin’s set of colored fluorescent light sculptures. One light bulb goes out and the others realized they aren’t quite a permanent installation. I sat next to a former Chinati intern during these scenes and we were laughing so hard. It was such an interesting take on something that attracts many tourists to Chinati and Marfa.
However, major issues, such as racism and the cultural divide between “new” and “old” Marfa, were addressed head on. The students didn’t pull any punches when they shared their interpretation of Blackwell students forced to bury their Spanish language to signify that only English would be spoken in the classroom. Of course it’s theater, so the scene was written in a dramatic way, but it was such a powerful scene that for the first time I truly felt the intensity of that historic moment. My heart was heavy.
I overheard a guy behind me ask multiple times if it was true. I can see why it seems unbelievable, but that really happened. It was discussed in the Children of Giant documentary. You can ask former Blackwell students who still live in Marfa. If you visit the former Blackwell School, you can see the dictionary and makeshift coffin on display.
Yes, we are an art town in the middle of the West Texas desert, and that itself is interesting, but there is so much more that isn’t discussed in the many pieces of press that namedrops Marfa.
I don’t know how the Texas Tech students managed to learn all they could about Marfa with their 7am to 10pm schedule, but they did. It was the first time I walked out of a Marfa-themed event ready to tell everybody and anybody about it.
I commend these student for creating something about Marfa with such care that I hope they perform it again so others will get to see.