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Harvey Wilhelm
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Obuchi Adikema’s “Unfinished Reflections” meditates on experiences on coming of age, community, and disillusionment at Grinnell College

Poster for Obuchi Adikemas MAP Unfinished Reflections. Image contributed by Adikema.
Poster for Obuchi Adikema’s MAP “Unfinished Reflections.” Image contributed by Adikema.

“Unfinished Reflections,” a virtual theater performance directed and curated by Obuchi Adikema `21 for her Mentored Advanced Project (MAP), will premiere virtually on its official website on May 13. The production is a pre-recorded performance that will focus on the stories of four college students reflecting on their lives, experiences and dreams for the future. The college students are be played by actors Avery Barnett `21, Tino Tazvitya `23, Linnet Adams `21 and Kaela Girod `21.

“Unfinished Reflections” will be presented for viewing as a single continuous video split into three movements: “I Lost My Voice,” “You are My Company,” and “We Can Do Anything We Want.” Each movement consists of poetry, movement, dialogue and interviews serving as individual monologues for each of the four characters in the play.

Adikema scripted the content and story of the monologues, which are based on ethnographic research and interviews she conducted with students at Grinnell College. The interviews, which Adikema conducted with 12 Grinnell College students of color, focused on those students’ experiences with disillusionment, togetherness and ambition.

Adikema used these focal topics to frame and organize personal anecdotes collected from the students to reflect on three central ideas: their own college experience and the process of coming of age, the importance of community and friends at college and what students are capable of doing and becoming in their lives.

“The last section, ‘We Can Do Anything We Want,’ for me, it’s more, what’s on the other side of the disillusionment? Now that you’re here, you realize this, you sought comfort in your community, and now what do you do? Whatever you want, is the answer,” Adikema said.

Some of the cast members were also involved in the introspective interview process.

“During the interviews, the questions I was asked, I never thought about them before,” Tazvitya said. “So getting to be asked those questions and then reflecting on my own life and how I’ve grown up until to where I am right now as a student at Grinnell, I actually learned a lot about me that I’d never learned before.”

As an artist, Adikema says she’s interested in creating performances that reflect underrepresented voices in her local community. As a director, she set out to produce exactly that.

“The story focuses around four characters who are played by Black women, which happens sometimes inside of different stories, but I think what’s interesting about this is that they all have different paths or journeys or storylines that they’re going through as the show goes on,” Adikema said. “I’m really interested in breaking apart the idea that they’re all the same. And so by having four of them who are doing different things, then I think that splits it apart.”

In producing “Unfinished Reflections,” it was also important to Adikema that the play focus specifically on the real-life experiences of college students.

“I think that sometimes in the media, especially in plays, sometimes the voices of people who are in their youth are kind of discounted as not serious or not worth writing about,” Adikema said. “I think that everything we experience is worth writing about, so that’s something as well. I know my audience is mostly college students and college faculty here so I’m like, ‘Why not write about them?’ Like, we are important, why not write about us?”

The last section, ‘We Can Do Anything We Want,’ for me, it’s more, what’s on the other side of the disillusionment? Now that you’re here, you realize this, you sought comfort in your community, and now what do you do? Whatever you want, is the answer. – Obuchi Adikema ’21

“Unfinished Reflections” is a continuation of a prior MAP that Adikema began in the summer of 2020 entitled “ Community Theater for People of Color and Accessibility.” For that MAP, Adikema created her own podcast, “Everybody Form a Circle,” where she documented her thoughts and ideas while researching different methodologies for creating theater.

“[During that project] I got exposed to this really great book called ‘Black Acting Methods,’” Adikema said. “It really pulled back and showed me how there are just different ways you can do theater.”

Adikema says establishing this understanding of Black and accessible theater-making methods mentally prepared her for the creative process and production of “Unfinished Reflections.”

Carlton Segbefia `21, who has been friends with Adikema since their first year at Grinnell, is the designer and editor for the production. Segbefia has experience working on film production and editing, but theater was a relatively new endeavor for him at the start of the project.

“For film, your goal is to make it as visually interesting as possible. … For theater it’s to make the characters as interesting as possible,” Segbefia said. “What we are hoping for is a filmed play rather than a film of a play. We are trying to be more on the theater side. We are trying to emphasize characters and their emotions more in a way similar to what you kind of see on the stage.”

Prior to “Unfinished Reflections,” actor Adams had performed in a theater production in high school. Adams was not cast in any previous productions at Grinnell, so when Adikema approached her about performing in “Unfinished Reflections,” Adams wholeheartedly embraced the opportunity to support her friend and take on the role of actor once again.

“To just be asked up front by a friend of mine – if I could be in her theater production on this campus – I felt honored, and I just, I couldn’t turn her down,” Adams said. “I just thought it would be really great to help my friend out for her MAP, and also be in one last production. My first and last Grinnell production before I leave.”

In creating a play based in the real-life accounts of students at Grinnell, “Unfinished Reflections” allowed the cast members to relate and connect to the characters they portray.

What we are hoping for is a filmed play rather than a film of a play. We are trying to be more on the theater side. We are trying to emphasize characters and their emotions more in a way similar to what you kind of see on the stage. – Carlton Segbefia ’21

“Overall, there are certain scenes where characters have thoughts that I’ve had in the past, and it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one that has had those thoughts,” Girod said.

For Barnett, the production will allow viewers to gain insight on experiences and ideas they are less familiar with.

“I feel like too often, especially at Grinnell, people spend a lot of time holding up their own personal experiences and neglect to recognize other people’s experiences and how different and varying they can be. And I feel that this is a good way for them to, you know, understand in palatable chunks, per se,” Barnett said.

With the official premiere just days away, Segbefia says he is worried viewers may get the wrong impression when they watch “Unfinished Reflections.”

“I feel like when you think of this work and you realize that all the characters are people of color, the first thing you think of is race,” Segbefia said. “It’s interesting because the way I think of it is that this is very much not a show about race, but a show about people. But I’m also worried that people won’t realize that. Race is such a big thing right now, for very good reasons like police brutality. … That’s an issue that needs to be dealt with in so many ways, but this isn’t a piece dealing with that. … I can see people coming in with that preconception that ‘I need to look for racism, I need to look for Black empowerment,’ rather than looking for people empowering themselves, people going through struggles and dealing with that.”

Through her art, Adikema says she continues to strive to create theater that can be transformational for audience members.

“You watch the show coming in with a feeling, and then you also leave with a different feeling that the show’s influenced you to think differently. So that’s something that I’m not exactly sure if it was hit with “Unfinished Reflections,” but I’m interested to keep trying it out and experimenting. … How can people come out on the other side of the show, feeling powerful and empowered? How can theater be used as a tool to build empathy for my characters? How can we continue to represent unrepresented voices and humanize them in these very vast expansive ways they’re experienced? So, I’m exploring them here but I’m going to keep exploring them. I’m going to keep going.”

The play will be available online for at least the duration of the weekend following May 13 up until May 16. On May 18, Adikema and the cast and crew will host a virtual talk-back session through Zoom where participants can pose questions about the performance.

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