Students in the writing class “Profiles and Portraits” took to the stage on Wednesday evening, playing a game of 20 questions to show that questions are as evocative as answers.
Held at the Jonathan Edwards theater, “Twenty Questions: Escapades of Creative Nonfiction” was a performance put on by the 12 students in Professor Cynthia Zarin’s English course to investigate methods of interviewing. Each student read 20 questions; their interviewees, unnamed New Haven residents, were absent, and there were no answers.
Performed, directed and scripted entirely by the class, the performance aspired to illustrate how the questions one asks can define an interview. Each student was positioned uniquely across the stage, which was decorated with white Christmas lights. One student asked his questions while lying on the floor.
The idea for the performance was derived from a class assignment: Each of Zarin’s students must write a 3,500-word profile of a New Haven resident.
Students in the class were asked to prepare questions they planned to ask in their interviews. But when Charles Gariepy ’09 read his questions aloud during seminar, Zarin said she thought it sounded “uncannily” like a literary performance. On a whim, the class decided to put on a show using their pre-written questions. (Gariepy is a former editor for the News.)
“It was all very spontaneous,” Zarin said. The performance was not rehearsed; planning for the show began two weeks ago. And because they were locked out of the theater, students started stage preparation just 30 minutes before the show.
Zoelle Egner ’10, another student in the class, said many of the questions posed during the performance were included with the audience in mind, and therefore perhaps more amusing than an actual interview.
Gariepy, who interviewed his neighbor, asked why the neighbor left lasagna on Gariepy’s doorstep and received mail from strange people.
“It’s really become a detective story,” he said, adding that for the actual interview, he made his questions more “reactive” to adjust for new angles.
The presentation exposed the “behind-the-scenes work” of an interview, Egner said.
“It was an experiment in creating nonfiction,” she said.
The subjects of the profiles, who remained anonymous during the performance, came from diverse backgrounds, including a chef, a bartender and a cemetery worker. In the end, however, the interviewers learned about more than just their subjects.
“I definitely learned a lot about my classmates,” Rayyan Kamal ’09 said.
Zarin said the performance forces the audience to ask: “What does it mean to ask a question? What does it mean to get an answer?”