Alumnus Sees Theater at Mason Production of His Play ‘Passaggio’

Posted: March 28, 2013 at 5:01 am, Last Updated: April 1, 2013 at 7:15 am

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By Catherine Probst

A scene from the forthcoming "Passaggio." Photo by Kathleen Barth

Players in rehearsal for the forthcoming “Passaggio.” Photo by Kathleen Barth

When George Mason University alumnus Michael Patrick Smith graduated, he never imagined that he would later have multiple roles at George Mason. These days, Smith, BA Psychology ’90 and MEd Counseling and Development ’93, works with international students as a graduate studies advisor and instructor in Mason’s English Language Institute. He is also pursuing a master’s degree in conflict analysis and resolution.

This month, he takes on an exciting new role — playwright.

The Mason Players will present the world premiere of “Passaggio,” a play Smith conceived in 2011 as part of Theater of the First Amendment’s First Light Discovery Program. Directed by guest artist Stevie Zimmerman, “Passaggio” will be performed at Harris Theater on the Fairfax Campus on March 28–30 and April 4–6 at 8 p.m., and on March 30 and April 6–7 at 2 p.m.

Photo by Kathleen Barth

Photo by Kathleen Barth

“Passaggio” is set in the fictional Italian town of Bellosguardo in 1959. The town’s livelihood depends on the success of the annual festival that celebrates the Madonna. This year, however, a rival town has brought a movie star to lure tourists away. With dreams of becoming an opera singer, the town’s mayor plans to compete by bringing opera back to the festival, a feat that townspeople believe will take a miracle.

“My grandmother always dreamed of being an opera singer and, when I was a young boy, we would spend hours together listening to some of the greatest sopranos and tenors of the day,” says Smith. “These memories inspired me to write ‘Passaggio,’ and I hope this play speaks to all of the dreamers out there that miracles do happen.”

Knee-deep in play revisions, rehearsals and cast meetings, Smith decided to use his experiences in the theater world as fodder for his current degree program. Working on an independent study project with Susan Hirsch, a cultural anthropologist and professor in the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, Smith is taking a closer look at how anthropology and theater are linked.

Specifically, he is navigating his own role as a playwright, as well as examining the roles of the actors as they use their bodies in performance to imagine and explore characters of different cultures, ethnicities and genders making their way through an array of conflicting situations. Smith plans to use these observations as the basis for a new course on cultural awareness and theater skills that will be offered in fall 2013.

The course, which will be taught by Smith and Heather McDonald, professor of theater, builds upon another course he currently co-teaches in which international students study cultural awareness and dialogue skills. The goal of the new course, he says, is to explore cultures and cultural conflict through characters and drama, as well as learn to solve problems through playwriting. Using some of acting’s basic techniques, the students will create a series of skits that showcase conflicts that occur when different cultures collide.

“I am very motivated by the idea of empowering international students and creating awareness among all people — and what better way to do that than through playwriting?” says Smith. “Playwriting helps people see things from a different perspective and is a great method of getting to the root of understanding conflict and issues through the process of story.”

After winning the First Light competition with “Passaggio,” Smith went on to write a short play titled “Master of the House.” This paradoxical take on immigration was produced as part of Mason’s Ten Minute Play Festival.

To purchase tickets for “Passaggio,” visit the website or call 888-945-2468.

Write to Colleen Kearney Rich at ckearney@gmu.edu

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