UA Little Rock student explores “theater of cruelty”

UA Little Rock theater major Selena Gordon has performed in musicals, plays, and even national films, but this semester she worked to create a performance of a different kind – one meant to awaken her audiences’ unexpressed emotions.

Gordon spent this semester creating “Wake-up!” – a performance that uses overbearing sensory aspects, such as lights, sound, and gestures to stir emotions.  

“I wanted to make the audience confront issues that society tends to shy away from or ignore because they’re too difficult to talk about,” she said. “Such things include racism, sexual assault, gun control, mental illness, abuse, discrimination in all of its forms, and the political state of the country today.”

It’s all part of a “theater of cruelty” experience that Gordon created and debuted at the Fringe Festival on campus in April. Recorded excerpts from the performance also were part of Gordon’s poster presentation at the Research and Creative Works Expo on April 18 in the Jack Stephens Center.

Gordon, a Fort Smith native, is a member of the Chancellor’s Leadership Corps. During her time at UA Little Rock, she has participated in Department of Theatre Arts and Dance productions, including “The All Night Strut” in 2017 and “As You Like It” in 2018. In 2017, Gordon also landed an acting job in the faith-based film “God’s Not Dead 3,” which was filmed in central Arkansas.

Last fall, Gordon was one of about 100 undergraduates who received up to a $1,000 grant to conduct original research, creative works, and community service projects this semester as part of the Signature Experience Awards program created by Chancellor Andrew Rogerson. The awards – now in their second year – are designed to foster research and creative works among undergraduate students.

Gordon proposed a project in which she would apply the theories of French dramatist Antonin Artaud, which she studied in Lawrence Smith’s Dramatic Criticism and Theory class, to a script she had written. Smith served as Gordon’s faculty mentor for the project.

“I learned about Antonin Artaud, who is the mastermind behind the idea (of theatre of cruelty), and I was instantly captured by his life and his theories,” she said. “Artaud believed that theatre had become too focused on words and that we had trapped ourselves in this box of repetitive works that had already been seen before and had been done for too many years. He wanted new works that moved people, that linked to the present world. His answer for escaping this loop was a theatre of cruelty.”

Selena Gordon, center, presents her “Theater of Cruelty” project to a judge during the Research and Creative Works Expo on April 18, 2019. Photo by Benjamin Krain


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