It’s that brand new, back to school feeling. A trek into the unknown. A multifaceted answer to a simple question. That’s what Cleveland Play House is aiming to bring to center stage with Where Did We Sit On The Bus?, its first in-person play since 2020.
By the time artistic director Laura Kepley finished reading the first line of Where Did We Sit On The Bus?, she was sold. After having to cancel in-person shows last year, Kepley and her team tried to plan this year’s return around what they thought people were craving from theater.
“What most people were looking for were life-affirming stories filled with joy that gave people something to think about and opened up vibrant possibilities for the future,” says Kepley. “That is this play.”
The play, which was originally directed by Chay Yew, was written and originally performed solely by playwright Brian Quijada from 2016-2019.
Where Did We Sit On The Bus? starts with the titular question which ensues a conversation that makes the play shine. The audience follows a Latinx teenager — now played by actress Satya Chavez — learning about Rosa Parks in school. That lesson leads her down a journey of cultural history and questioning her place in the world.
“One of my favorite genres is coming-of-age,” says Kepley. “I also love the solo show format, because I think that it is our most direct storytelling.”
As Quijada refers to it, this production is a full-on “hip-opera,” weaving different elements, mediums and sounds to create a series of moods and themes.
The one-person show uses an innovative technique called live looping, where multiple layers of sounds and instrumentals are recorded before they’re stacked on top of each other in different ways. This unique form of audio storytelling matches the themes of the play perfectly.
“The immigrant experience is having to make it on your own,” says Quijada. “That is live looping. It is born out of having to do it by yourself, because you need to, because nobody else is going to help you.”
While the themes in the play are grand, they’re communicated through the smaller, more minuscule moments and questions that make up life from an immigrant’s perspective in America.
“I think another thing that people said that they were craving was innovation. And I feel like this show is so innovative,” says Kepley.
Running from Oct. 23 through Nov. 14, Where Did We Sit On The Bus? is the bold kicking off point of the company’s season. With four more plays on the docket, Cleveland Play House is aiming to highlight diverse and uplifting stories for their 2021-22 season with other shows such as Light It Up!, Antigone and I’m Back Now.
“You know, we’ve all been through so much,” says Kepley. “We’ve been in isolation from each other. I just think this is an incredible opportunity for people to renew their connections to other human beings, to renew their sense of possibilities.”