“Notes From the Field” at Austin’s ZACH Theatre Strikes a Notable Chord

by Britni Rachal on March 21, 2019 in Entertainment, Theatre,

“Much like a flower blooming through the cracks of a parking lot” was one of the metaphors used in ZACH Theatre’s latest production to paint a picture of the struggles of certain American youth. The thought-provoking Notes From the Field is much more like a live documentary than the traditional play or musical you’d typically see at ZACH.

Using real-life footage on screens in the theatre to showcase recent events, Notes From the Field dives directly into topics associated with the school-to-prison pipeline, or the tendency for minors and young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds to become incarcerated, often because of increasingly harsh school and municipal policies. Drawn from interviews with more than 200 people living and working within a challenged system, the play shines a light on problems faced by American youth. Four actors make up the cast from the play, telling stories from the perspectives of different people, including educators, bystanders, parents, children and even a psychologist.

Michelle Alexander in Notes From the Field at ZACH Theatre. Photo Kirk Tuck

“I was disheartened to learn I have actors on stage who are stars in the ZACH arena, entertaining thousands of people, who are having a completely different experience outside the theater in their daily lives for no discernable reason other than the color of their skin,” said Dave Steakley, ZACH Theatre’s award-winning Producing Artistic Director. “This inequity prodded me to produce a play that will create conversation and promote advocacy and action on behalf of our friends and neighbors.”

The play showcases acclaimed writer and actor Anna Deavere Smith’s latest thought-provoking work, which hasn’t been performed since the 2016 off-Broadway production.

Kriston Woodreaux in Notes From the Field at ZACH Theatre. Photo Kirk Tuck

Because it sparks so much conversation, the play incorporates audience members directly. Toward the end of the production, audience members have the option to participate in breakout sessions. Divided into groups of four, the audience gets to sit and have conversations about things that stood out most to them in the production, while also offering perspectives from their own lives.

“I really liked how they offered so many perspectives,” said lifelong Austin resident, Melissa McGavin. “The community conversation gave me insight into others’ experiences. It’s the only ZACH show I’ve been to that kept me thinking for days later.”

Zell Miller III in Notes From the Field at ZACH Theatre. Photo Kirk Tuck

As a journalist, I also thought aspects of the play that included actual video shot during police shootings were especially impactful, especially the recounts of information from bystanders who shot the video. I also enjoyed getting to know other audience members through the interactive breakout session of the play, which something I have never seen or experienced in a production.

Notes From the Field is at ZACH Theatre’s Kleberg Stage through March 31. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased online.


Cover photo AxelB Photography