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New York-based director overseeing original production at Stephens

June 4, 2014

The director of a revolutionary theatre company in New York is on campus this week overseeing production of an original play based on the life of a famous female geologist.
Jessica Burr is co-founder of Blessed Unrest, an award-winning experimental physical theatre company that generates original works. Burr’s partner, Matt Opatrny, joined her on campus last week, as well.

Courtesy of Alan Roche

At Stephens, Burr is working with about 20 theatre students to write and create a show featuring the life of Luella Agnes Owen. Owen, who died in 1932, was the first woman to openly explore and write about the caves of Missouri. Despite social restrictions, Owen explored hundreds of caves, publishing “Cave Regions of the Ozarks and Black Hills” in 1898.
The show, “The Beauty of Darkness,” will begin at 7:30 p.m. at Warehouse Theatre. It’s free and open to the public.
Burr and students discovered Owen’s biography while looking for materials on which to base the play.
Rather than a linear biography, “The Beauty of Darkness” will be a journey of interwoven narratives of stories, poetry, original choreography and music that bring our central story clearly into the here and now. Information will come unexpectedly, Burr said, and through all types of mediums.
“We’re essentially all asking the question and letting it be,” she said. “That question is ‘What does it mean to build your own way as a woman in this place?’ It will also celebrate the women on whose shoulders we stand.”
Burr and Opatrny have been working together since 1999 and held their first performance as a company in New York in 2001, just days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The mood and tenacity following that event has shaped the company since, she said. In addition to productions in New York, Blessed Unrest pursues international partnerships in hopes of breaking down cultural barriers through artistic collaboration.
This is Burr’s first time working at Stephens and visiting Missouri. Although the process has been hectic—she and the crew have two weeks to write, rehearse and produce the show—she said she’s been impressed with Stephens.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “The idea of coming into a place and working with people you’ve never met and to devise a play from scratch in two weeks … it’s in that fine line between very brave and very stupid. But they’ve set the bar so high. They’re focused, have had great training and take care of each other. I’m learning a lot just keeping up with their processes.”

“The Beauty of Darkness” is part of the Summer Theatre Institute at Stephens. Click here for a list of all STI productions. 

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