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University Theatre travels to Scotland with 'Good Death' production

by Tonya Durlach

July 29, 2011 | WMU News

Photo of WMU theatre students in Good Death production.
"Good Death"
WMU University Theatre
KALAMAZOO--Do you have the right to choose to die? Could you pull a plug? Is helping someone die an act of compassion or crime? Is there a judgment day?

Western Michigan University theatre students will pose these questions to audiences in Scotland next week when they take their original production, "Good Death: A Community Conversation," to the internationally renowned Edinburgh Fringe Festival. As the world's largest arts festival, the Fringe attracts more than 19,000 artists from around the globe to Edinburgh each year to celebrate and share theatre.

About the production

"Good Death," which premiered in Kalamazoo in fall 2009, was created through a unique collaboration between WMU theatre students and members of the acclaimed Tectonic Theater Project. It confronts the decisions that govern the end of life, bringing a heated conversation to the stage in the wake of the recent death of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, and as the UK debates the right to die through the recent controversy involving Sir Terry Pratchett's documentary and the BBC.

The script is compiled from verbatim interviews with the principal players in Kevorkian's murder trial, pro-choice and pro-life activist leaders, medical professionals, religious leaders, the terminally ill, and ordinary citizens who have had extreme relationships with impending death. "Good Death" considers what it means to live life to the fullest or choose to die. The Kalamazoo Gazette said of the original production, "Prepare for an evening that will challenge notions about how a play is created and performed, as well as preconceptions about life's final rite of passage."

The making of 'Good Death'

Working with members of the Tectonic Theater Company, WMU students began researching the life and work of the recently deceased Kevorkian. Following Tectonic's documentary process, students interviewed Kevorkian's colleagues, patients, friends and adversaries. They then expanded their research to include local hospice workers, clergy, pro-life and pro-choice activists, and those living with terminal illness. This research led to a community conversation about human rights and death.

Working in the methodology used to create "The Laramie Project," the actors and designers began piecing together parts of the play at first using images then expanding to sounds, movement, song and text. Out of these moments evolved a compelling and emotional exploration about the right to die.

University Theatre at WMU

This marks WMU's third major overseas appearance. In 2004, the award-winning theatre department won critical acclaim at the Fringe Festival for its ground-breaking production of "Women of Troy: Women of War." Devised by the company, this politically charged venture played to sold-out audiences and was rated four of five stars by festival paper Three Weeks. In 2008, University Theatre's production of "Seven Passages: Stories of Gay Christians" was invited to the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, England, to perform for the leadership of the Anglican Church. The WMU Department of Theatre is the recipient of consistent critical acclaim and many awards including three invitations in five years to perform at the Region III American College Theatre Festival and two invitations to perform at The Kennedy Center.

Tectonic Theater Project is an internationally renowned company founded in 1991 by Moises Kaufman and Jeffrey LaHoste. It is dedicated to developing innovative works that explore theatrical language and form and foster an artistic dialogue with audiences on relevant social, political and human issues. Its groundbreaking plays, "The Laramie Project," "Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde" and "I Am My Own Wife," have sparked national discourse about their subjects and have inspired artists and audiences worldwide. New York Magazine calls the company's work "Nothing short of stunning. Not to be missed."

For more information, contact Emily Duguay, University Theatre, at or (269) 387-6222.