The Bluest Eye: Exploring Transdisciplinary Storytelling at Columbia College Chicago

Columbia College Chicago brings Toni Morrison's “The Bluest Eye" to the stage March 13-23, made possible by student collaboration in dance, theater, writing, and other creative disciplines.

Columbia College Chicago’s theatrical adaptation of “The Bluest Eye” is set to make a powerful return to the stage. With its release scheduled for March 13, the production will be a unique and immersive experience, driven by a transdisciplinary collaboration involving various departments and programs such as Dance, English and Creative Writing, Intimacy Coordination, and led by the Theatre Department. 

A standout feature of this production is the collaborative effort across creative disciplines. Multiple classes, faculty, and industry professionals came together to provide students with coursework that analyzes Toni Morrison's seminal work. Says Interim Chair and Professor of English and Creative Writing Jeanne Petrolle, “Our intention with this project is to emphasize the importance of conveying challenging themes with sensitivity and care.”

Assistant Professor of Dance Ayo Walker PhD, the force behind "caricatureography," sheds light on the intricacies of breaking down the experimental text with her students. Walker developed the concept by creating choreography for theatrical characters and detailing their movement as part of a narrative, which she explores in her dance workshop.

The Theatre Department's commitment to making the performance accessible to a wide audience is evident in the inclusion of an American Sign Language-interpretated show, which is part of a continued collaboration for all mainstage performances. Additionally, a special "Blackout" performance is scheduled for March 22, intended specifically for a Black or Black-identifying audience. "This performance is a standout moment, reflecting the production's commitment to inclusivity and cultural sensitivity,” says Petrolle. 

On February 29, the Theatre Department invited playwright Lydia Diamond to attend an English and Creative Writing class as a guest speaker. Diamond shared her insights with a diverse group, including the show’s director Ashley Keys ‘22. Diamond spoke about her responsibility for representing women's experiences on stage. "My commitment to portraying the realities of the audience members resonates with the core purpose of theater as a platform for reflection and connection,” she says.  

The conversation also touched on the challenges in navigating the emotional weight of Morisson's original text with an adaptation. “There’s a lot to pack into a 90-minute performance,” explains Diamond. “This is a novel I am putting on stage for Toni Morrison. I felt the pressure of getting it right.” 

According to Diamond, creating a safe space for actors in a Black rehearsal room, balancing laughter and tears, and infusing joy into the process highlight the unique dynamics that contribute to the authenticity of the performance. 

English and Creative Writing students also studied the pop culture references and racial history that are necessary for understanding The Bluest Eye, including Dick and Jane, Shirley Temple, and Mr. Bojangles. Professor Ames Hawkins had their students study The Bluest Eye in their Banned Books course as part of the transdisciplinary assignments this spring.

"The Bluest Eye" is more than a theatrical production; it's a transdisciplinary collaboration that seeks to break barriers and connect with audiences on a profound level. It's also an ideal example of the experiences available to Columbia students through their educational and creative journeys.  

The Bluest Eye will run from March 13 to March 23.

March 13, 7:30 p.m. (Preview) 
March 14, 7:30 p.m. (Preview) 
March 15, 7:30 p.m. (Opening night) 
March 16, 2 p.m.  
March 16, 7:30 p.m.  
March 20, 7:30 p.m.  
March 21, 7:30 p.m. (American Sign Language performance) 
March 22, 10 a.m. (Student matinee)  
March 22, 7:30 p.m. (Blackout performance) 
March 23, 2 p.m. 

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