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English Professor to Premiere Off-Broadway Production

"Cardiff" written by Leila Philip is based on an original work by British artist Garth Evans
January 20th, 2017 by 

Cardiff sculpture
The sculpture at the center of "Cardiff."

How do people respond to an encounter with the unfamiliar? This is the idea that Leila Philip, professor of English, explores on stage with “Cardiff,” which premieres on January 25 at The Duplex in New York City.

“Cardiff” is based on a true story – in 1972, the morning after completing the installation of his sculpture in Cardiff, South Wales, British artist Garth Evans recorded the remarks and comments made by observers of his work. More than 40 years later, Philip took those voices, and the emotions they grapple with in confronting the unexpected art in a familiar place, and transformed them into the script for “Cardiff.”

“The play is about people responding to something strange in their midst, to the other – in this case, a large object that was lifted by crane onto their street,” explains Philip. “Would their responses have been different if it had been a stranger, a person of unfamiliar race or religion?” The story, she continues, also explores how disconnected communities have become in an ever more connected world, and to remind audiences of what connects us to one another.

As a writer, Philip embraced the challenge to explore a new medium, crafting a compelling story arc that worked not only on the page, but on the stage as well. The creative process was not dissimilar from the exercises she has her creative writing students work through in the classroom.

“The archival tape is a set of random voices so the challenge was how to mine the sense of character in order to develop the arc of a story,” says Philip about the writing process. “I drafted more times than I can even count trying to capture a sense of narrative movement, a sense of change – that something is building and transforming. My background as a nonfiction writer and as a poet taught me how to seek out the invisible forces, the stories behind factual events and the power of stories that lie in objects and things.”

Philip will be taking a group of her creative writing students to see the play on Jan. 28, a chance for them to see a performance of “Cardiff” and participate in a discussion about the work with the director, some of the cast, Evans and Philip. The play runs Jan. 25 through 28, Wednesday through Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 4:30 and 7 p.m.

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