Polish President Andrzej Duda and U.S. President Donald Trump’s meeting wasn’t the only conference between the two countries this week. University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance hosted a panel discussing the joint production playwright Charles Mee’s “Day and Night” with Polish institutions AST National Academy of Theatre Arts, Kraków and Warsaw-based Adam Mickiewicz Institute.

The Wednesday evening panel included directors Malcolm Tulip, a Music, Theatre & Dance assistant professor, and Dominika Knapik, a Polish actress, dancer and choreographer, as well as the designers and members of the Polish and American cast. Germanic languages and literature Visiting Scholar Teresa Kovacs moderated the discussion, first giving the background of “Night and Day.” The play premiered in 2014 and is actually two separate plays that can be performed together or apart.

“Like all of Mee’s plays, ‘Night and Day’ are not psychological, narrative-based dramas,” Kovacs said. “We can think of them as a collage because he uses different materials: paintings, he refers to performances and even Youtube clips.”

Tulip chose Night and Day because it was something on which he could collaborate with Knapik and Polish acting students. Collaboration made sense, Tulip explained, because of their shared artistic views, in addition to the political unrest under conservative administrations.

“These more-to-the-right administrations … seemed to be a common bond,” Tulip said. “We had artistic things in common, we had political struggles in common.”

Music, Theatre & Dance professor Vince Mountain, one of the designers of the play, discussed the performance’s visual aspects and explained how a combination of visuals, movement and sound are used to make the play come alive. He noted his appreciation of the unrefined, messy nature of Mee’s plays.

“(Mee) talks about on his website … he likes things that aren’t neat,” Mountain said. “He says I want things to crash into each other and be messy and be unresolved, and I do find a lot of mainstream theater is a little bit too neat. Personally, in my own work, I like things that are messy and crash into each other and so the opportunity to do this is really great because you do one thing, and other people contribute.”

Kovacs prompted the cast members to speak about their experience working on a play with a unique, movement-based style. Music, Theatre & Dance junior Amanda Kuo was one of the actors who responded, touching on the freedom and vulnerability using her body to convey a message.

“Knowing that this was a dance theater piece also meant displaying your body and using that as a means of storytelling and putting an emphasis on that,” Kuo said. “It’s slightly liberating, but also puts you in a vulnerable place because it’s your body, it’s your whole self, not just the text. So in that way, this process has pushed us to stop thinking and just start doing, and trusting each other and creating images.”

Knapik explained how she pushed the actors to explore their movements, giving them room to improvise and create, but at the same time making sure they were testing themselves.

“It’s not addressing what people are dancing but what is really moving them,” Knapik said. “Addressing what kind of motion they have inside. Really I’m trying to make it in a very specific rhythm that can be challenging also for them. It’s something between being super strict and giving freedom to the creativity.”

This creativity and improvisation really appealed to Music, Theatre & Dance senior Kathleen Taylor, who spoke about her appreciation of the play not adhering to one single statement.

“It’s been really fascinating for me to be able to work on this piece that is sort of messy and is not necessarily making any one particular statement other than that every decision we make is political, everything we’re putting out into the world at least I believe during this time has inherent political value,” Taylor said.

Music, Theatre & Dance junior Daniel Flick said attending the play would be a valuable experience for every potential audience member.

“I don’t think there’s a specific audience I would want to see this,” Flick said. “I think everyone can take something away from it and I think it will challenge everyone’s beliefs in a certain way to a certain extent.”

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