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'Behavioral Science 101' in 24 hours

“What you are about to see did not exist 24 hours ago,” said Professor Shan Ayers as he introduced the interested audience to the performance that was about to take place.

Scenes from "Behavioral Science 101"

It was the opening night and Ayers seemed a combination of excited and exhausted from having pulled an all-nighter.

After teaching a Short Term course on how to put together a stage show, he had locked his students in the McGawTheatre at 8 p.m. on January 27 to put those skills to the test. The students had 24 hours to write, direct, block, rehearse, design, hang lights, costume, and mike before they performed the following evening. Ayers stayed with the students of 24 Hour Play Project class as they took on the challenge.

“Diversity is more than just black and white” was the prompt he gave to his students. From that they would make a play come alive.

Before the actors got to the script, however, the writers had to write the play. Shakespeare observed that “all the world is a stage.” The three college playwrights – Eric George, Megan Jones and Ashley White – brought their world into the play, writing about a college classroom to explore the theme of diversity.

The play that emerged after the 24 hours was called “Behavioral Science 101.” In it the playwrights and actors explored the human within the various kinds of stereotypes they portrayed.

The play’s co-director sophomore Shawn Bruce played a student known for his tough-guy demeanor. But unlike traditional notions about tough guys, his softer side was revealed when talking on the telephone with his mother, whom Shawn wanted to protect from an abusive boyfriend.

One key female character acted as a Christian teenager in love with her friend in class, only to see their friendship fray as she tried to express her love. Acting the stereotype, she grew cold toward her friend when she found out that he was gay.

The play would not have achieved its philosophical angle nearly as well without the professor character acted by junior Edwin Schiff, who served as the play’s narrator of sorts. Professor Schiff's statements about diversity and life would border the profound and humorous.

“Why do people do what they do?" wondered the lectern philosopher loudly. "Trying to answer that question would be as hard as trying to find out why birds can fly."

The independently produced show was, in many ways, reflective of Berea College’s values. Berea was the first fully integrated college in the South to educate whites and blacks. Maintaining its Christian roots, Berea has a tradition of welcoming students from all backgrounds.

The show and its message was well received by the audience. A large group of students stayed to ask the theater class questions before emerging into the night, under the haloed moon, exactly 24 hours after the class had received the assignment.

A satisfied Professor Ayers and his class could now catch some sleep.

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