Alexis Atkinson ’15 Provides Audience With Telescopic Look at “Constellations” of Her Life

Last weekend, Colby’s Strider Theater hosted the original play “Constellations” as a part of Homecoming festivities. Written, directed, and performed by Alexis Atkinson ’15 as part of a Theater and Dance Department program during her senior year, “Constellations” tells the story of her life through the sequences in a dream garden. After taking it to a residency in a New York theater this summer, Atkinson was invited back to showcase what she had developed.

For the duration of this short play, Atkinson stands alone onstage and addresses the audience in a narrative that encompasses different ages, places, and perspectives as she works to define herself. The play is enhanced by the intricate use of lighting, projections, and music that capture  your attention with stunning visuals and compelling speeches. “Constellations” handles many issues of race, gender, and socioeconomic identity, and raises some interesting questions about how theater can be used to deal with them.

The Echo sat down with Atkinson to find out more about her perspective on her piece.

Echo: What prompted you to tell your story with multimedia the way that you did?

AA: When I was writing it, it was a very visual process…I had seen a scene from what is in it now, and I didn’t know how to capture that setting without giving a certain visual aspect. So in that writing process, you see a lot of lighting and music interwoven into the writing aspect. I wouldn’t say that the whole show is dependent on the visuals, but the visuals have a completely different—but not diverging—storyline.

It helps tell a lot of the story and establish certain settings and moods, and really, I like to think of it as the walls of my mind being projected onto the walls of the theater. The music, besides being interwoven with the African American musical diaspora, really sets the tone, and the amazing lighting gives you a peek into my brain and what it’s like to live this life. And I think that, aside from story that I’ve written and is being told, the general spectacle of theater comes to play and helps to tell a really personal story.

Echo: How did you choose the title?

AA: There’s two reasons. The first reason is that I have a lot of bumps on my skin, and I’ve always thought that the person who ends up loving me for the rest of my life, or just people who love me in general, accept me with all of those flaws, which is also how I feel about “Constellations” in general. But, on a note more topical to the play, these are different moments in my life, and the show is told in and out in of those places in time. I was a different person at one point in my life than I am now, or when this show first came out, but just because I was a different person and was in different spaces and places doesn’t mean that they’re not all a part of me.  So it was just me connecting my own dots and telling my story.

Also, from what I know of my community, black people love stars; the Big Dipper was what lead the slaves home, if you’re particularly Christian-oriented, the three Wise Men followed the stars. Stars are associated with the narrative of having to find direction and find yourself.  So “Constellations,” which is a narrative of America, a narrative of being black, a narrative of being female, a narrative of being a black female—which is wholly different from the first two—is about weaving my life together.  Just because [these moments are] out of place or out of time doesn’t mean they’re any less me.

Echo: What has changed or stayed the same about the story as you have worked on it in three different spaces and times?

AA: Much hasn’t changed in terms of content…[but] I feel like a lot has changed in me personally as I’m telling it. [When I was asked to come to Colby,] I was thinking, how do I bring this back? Because it happened in such a small space downstairs originally. Then, I did it at Dixon Place in New York City, which is a much bigger space. So since then, I’ve just been learning how to expand and shrink it, since the play’s really intimate.

Aside from the content being things about my life and what’s important to me, learning how to keep that connection and make it either bigger or smaller depending on the space.  The projections have adapted from having to switch in and out of media personnel. The lighting has become very intricate and developed in all these ways, so I’ve really appreciated that the residency has allowed me to keep moving the show forward as I take it places. This show was basically a ‘found’ show, in that I had to find different pieces and bring it together. Discovery has become a really important aspect of the show, rediscovering and tweaking things. 

Echo: “Constellations” deals a lot with the narrator’s identity as defined by the world around her.  Has the story changed at all when performed in different contexts?

AA: It’s a lot about race. The fact that it’s 2016 and the world hasn’t changed that much since when we made it—that everything is so applicable and this narrative is still really needed in the global structure of things—is really telling.  Not only does this story need to be told, there’s still something that needs to be done in this voice.