Welcome to our Featured Play Spotlight. A response to the classic novel, Lord of the Flies, Baalzebub by Rachel Atkins is a full-length or one-act ensemble piece that offers excellent inclusive, diverse and gender-expansive opportunities in casting.
What would a group of girls do if they were abandoned alone, at a refugee camp, in an unnamed war zone, away from adults and civilization? As time passes without rescue, the girls face the adult challenges of creating and maintaining a working society, as they struggle to cooperate, understand their differences, define themselves, and survive. Will they establish civility or fall back to savagery?
Why did we publish this play?
Rachel writes strong female characters with great emotional impact. That alone is a great reason to publish this play. But she goes further – the play clearly suggests inclusive, racially conscious and gender-expansive choices in casting. Having plays that welcome gender flexibility is a major initiative here at Theatrefolk. Lastly, it’s an adaptation, or more specifically a response to a classic work – Lord of the Flies. How does this tale of civility and savagery reflect through a gender flexible lens? It was not hard at all to accept Baalzebub for publication.
Let’s hear from the author!
1. Why did you write this play?
I was commissioned by Seattle Public Theater to write a play for their youth program. The director and I brainstormed a range of ideas that could serve their company of young actors. Our conversation covered both the current refugee crisis, and William Golding’s quote about Lord of the Flies: “A group of little boys… are more like scaled-down society than a group of little girls would be”—and putting those two ideas together just made sense. I wanted to write a play that would be both empowering and community-building for an ensemble of young women.
2. Describe the theme in one or two sentences.
Community vs. the individual
Order vs. chaos, peace vs. war
And how all of the above relates to gender.
3. What’s the most important visual for you in this play?
The song—which isn’t just a visual, so maybe this answers a different question, but their “performance” of it is important: the way the characters personalize it, the ways they use it to bring themselves together and establish their community, and how it morphs through the play as the characters and their relationships change
4. If you could give one piece of advice for those producing the play, what would it be?
Be willing to think outside the box for inclusive casting. For example: the first production had 2 boys playing Sam and Isis as girls, 3 non-binary actors as Juno, Ali and Diamond, and younger (elementary and middle school age) actors playing Baby and Sister. This is an ensemble piece, which benefits from as diverse an ensemble as possible—by whatever definition diversity holds in your community.
5. Why is this play great for student performers?
Opportunities to build ensemble both on and off the stage. The songs and rituals can come from your actors’ own experiences, interests, abilities and strengths. Helping your cast develop their own community will serve the community within the play. Also, particularly if you’re working with a more homogenous or privileged population, this play provides a chance to connect with the world at large. Bring in members of your local refugee support organization to talk to the cast. Coordinate a donation drive during the production. This play has served as a jumping point for young actors to also become activists.
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