SF State News {University Communications}

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New drama confronts 'America's last taboo'

February 10, 2009 -- In her latest commissioned play, Creative Writing Lecturer Anne Galjour explores what is often called "America's last taboo," class division in America. Although work on the play began three years ago, today's economic woes have made the solo performance piece more relevant than ever.

Photo of SF State Playwriting Lecturer Anne Galjour performing 'You Can't Get There from Here.'

SF State playwriting instructor Anne Galjour performing her play 'You can't Get There From Here'

The National Endowment for the Arts and Dartmouth College's Hopkins Center for the Arts commissioned "You Can't Get There From Here," which focuses on the painful divides between classes in a New England community. Galjour's work was the culminating project of the Center's three-year Class Divide Initiative, a series of artist residencies, free workshops and performances intended to raise awareness and spark community discussion.

Galjour's exploration began in one of the initiative's public workshops on issues of class. People from all walks of life were asked a series of questions about when they first became aware of their class or social standing, and their private beliefs about class.

"Most of us were addressing our own feelings and opening up about class in America for the first time in our lives," Galjour said.

Galjour built her play upon comments she heard in the workshops as well as conversations with the people she met. She spent a total of five weeks in the upper valley region of New Hampshire collecting material.

"By the time I returned to the Bay Area to write, I had collected stories about people who lived close to the land, people who had money and whose families had lived in New England since it was settled, and some middle-class people who were maxed out on credit cards and struggling as much as those without any money," Galjour said. One of the stories told, which became a cornerstone of Galjour's play, is that of a young mother who discovers that one of her daughter's school friends isn't allowed to attend her daughter's birthday party because she and her daughter live in a subsidized housing project.

Galjour performed "You Can't Get There From Here" last fall in small theaters and cultural centers in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont. In addition to the National Endowment for the Arts, funding for the play came from the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Doris Duke Charitable Trust's creative campus program.

The play's San Francisco debut will be later this year.

"It was a remarkable experience for me as an artist, writer and teacher," Galjour said. "It has changed the way I approach playwriting with my students." Galjour now employs the same questions and methods from the workshops in her writing classes at SF State, including the practice of having the participants read each other's responses. "This experience allows the students to visit something personal that they may not have explored before and also lets them experience internally something that someone else is feeling," said Galjour. "And that is something essential to playwriting."

-- Denize Springer


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