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"Waiting To Be Invited" At WMU Shows Everyday People Can Make A Difference

From left to right: Dwandra Lampkin, Ariszia Staton, Imari Brown in WMU's production of "Waiting to be Invited"
John Lacko

In the play, “Waiting to be Invited” by S.M. Shepard-Massat, three black housewives are going to Marsh’s - a “whites only” restaurant at an Atlanta department store. It’s 1964 and segregation has just been outlawed. Odessa, Louise, and Delores are going to see what happens when they walk inside. 

Western Michigan University’s theatre department will perform the play September 22nd through October 8th at the York Theatre. Director Lofty Durham says the play shows the power of ordinary people.

“They’re not people on TV or radio advocating for change, but in fact they are women who see the opportunity to play a small role in integrating places,” he says.

“Waiting to be Invited” is loosely based on the experiences of playwright S.M. Shepard-Massat’s grandmother. Dwandra Lampkin is an associate professor in Western’s theatre department. She says she saw the play in its early stages nearly 20 years ago - which gave her a lot of insight into the work:

“This is a little inside scoop: She was actually pregnant with one of her daughters at the time and the doctor put her on bed rest. And she tells the story that, during this time, it was difficult for her because she couldn’t do very much. And she was missing her mother and grandmother and was motivated by those feelings to write the play in order to feel a little bit closer to the people that she was missing.”

Lampkin plays the role of Ms. Odessa right alongside the students. Lampkin says it’s a way to keep up her skills as an actress, but more importantly it allows her to demonstrate what she teaches in the classroom. Director Lofty Durham says it’s been going so well, he’s excited to do more plays with faculty in the cast.

“We’re modeling the relationship between a director and actor, the kinds of behaviors that Dwandra brings into the rehearsal - prepared, ready, able to do new things, able to take notes, being flexible, raising questions as the come up,” he says.

And the student actors are going to need all of the help they can get. Durham says this is a tough play to pull off. He says there are very few scene changes, so it’s up to the actors to hold the audience’s attention.

“You have a bus for the first act riding downtown. And of course the early productions, as Dwandra has told me, involved a rotating stage where you had pieces of the bus that were built and a real steering wheel and a mirror and a fan - and all kinds of bells and whistles,” says Durham.

The bus for Western’s production - not so much. It’s just six blocks and a place to put change. Lampkin says the play helps the students to understand that it's OK to have stillness in theatre.

“It’s not all about things blowing up and music in the background. What is it that you have to say and what are you fighting for? And boy oh boy do they have to find that in this piece,” she says.

While you may get attached to the characters in “Waiting to be Invited,” don’t expect to find out what happens to them after they go to Marsh’s. Durham says that’s what he loves about the play. It play focus more on the journey rather than the consequences of the characters' actions.

“To make the decision that changing the future is more important than their present and that they’re willing to be hurt and to risk everything for those changes," he says.

"And that to me is what feels really resonant because I think people are facing that right now about how strongly they feel about things in our country and what they’re willing to do about it.”

You can see “Waiting to be Invited” at Western Michigan University’s York Theatre September 22nd through October 8th. 

Rebecca Thiele was an environmental reporter and producer of Arts & More for WMUK. She worked at the station from 2011 to 2019.
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