Coming Together After a Pandemic Forced Us Apart
The stanzas of “Dear Vaccine,” a collection of pandemic memoirs written by citizen poets turned staged theatrical production, made their way home to the Kent State University Museum on Monday, Oct. 2.
In a collaboration between the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University and the University of Arizona Poetry Center, the evolved work has made its way from Washington, D.C., to Kent.
What started as a poem of prompts from American poet Naomi Shihab Nye, citizen poets were invited to participate in a book based on Nye’s poem surrounding the global pandemic. Just months after the book was published, David Hassler adapted the book into a theatrical performance called, “What We Learned While We Were Alone.”
Hassler, director of the Wick Poetry Center, wrote the play after selecting over 150 responses to Nye’s poem prompts. The original project received 2,700 responses from 118 countries and all 50 states in the United States.
“It’s how are we making sense of and processing what we've gone through alone and individually, but also collectively.”
“We created the website as a way to advocate for people to get the vaccine; however, as the play has evolved, the focus of ‘What We Learned While Alone’ was talking more about mental health and wellness,” Hassler said. “It’s how we are making sense of and processing what we've gone through alone and individually, but also collectively.”
“What We Learned While We Were Alone” was held in the museum’s Murphy Auditorium, and it focused on the struggles of feeling alone during the pandemic, featuring themes of We Love, We Grieve, We Praise, and We Hope.
The production is composed of those four themes, and involves stanzas from the original submissions with performers reciting them and symbolically acting them out on the stage. There's also an interactive component, where the audience has the opportunity to text their own stanzas in.
Love, grief, praise and hope are primary emotions that Hassler believes everyone can connect to in some way. You can feel more than one of these emotions at a time because they are “complementary opposites used to integrate an experience,” he said.
“You think about grieving and praising something, they’re both expressions of what you love, and we can only grieve what we love,” Hassler said. “Grieving and praising are not opposites but are the full expression and integration of the complex emotion of love.”
The fourth theme is hope, which is what Hassler describes as the future component, hope for the future ahead.
When the audience is processing its integrated emotions, and thinking about the future, Hassler hopes that the attendees felt some comfort in hearing shared experiences and found a sense of collective healing.
In Hassler’s words, healing means to make oneself whole without erasing or undoing the past, and that was exactly the intent of discussing personal pandemic stories in the production. Recognizing that the global pandemic was a shared experience, and that a single person does not carry the weight of the entire pandemic on their shoulders, is the beginning of healing, Hassler described.
“We're waking people up to the shared human experience of the pandemic."
“We're waking people up to the shared human experience of the pandemic,” Hassler said. “There's some solace in having other shoulders say, ‘I know what you're saying, and I feel that way too.’ Suddenly, you are not alone.”
There is another chance to catch the production at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 6, in the Kent United Church of Christ. Join the Wick Poetry Center for the production and reflect on your own pandemic experiences as we heal in a post-pandemic world.