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Immersive Play Marks Banned Books Week

By:Batuhan Duman A play, presented as part of the Banned Books Week i the Student Center was developed from the transcripts of two meetings that took place during the 2021-2022 academic year in Hunterdon County in which some concerned parents came together to force the board to ban books with LGBTQ+ themes or protagonists from the middle and high school libraries. 

The play was developed and directed by Dr. Leigh Jonaitis, who has been teaching at Bergen Community College since 2000, and produced by Prof. Jim Bumgardner, a professor of theatre arts and the producer of the theatre arts program at Bergen. Dr. Jonaitis put the script together in a half hour play, which was performed with the aid of the direct transcripts of the two meetings which took place at the North Hunterdon-Voorhees School District and the Hunterdon Central School District last year.

What made the play an immersive experience was that the actors who were playing the roles of detractors and supporters all were sitting with the spectators. People soon realized that exclamations, hackles, applause and boos weren’t just okay but encouraged. 

Pride Club members were part of the play with the Theatre Club, both of whom were scattered among the audience. This made the unsuspecting crowd feel as if they were in the actual board meeting in Hunterdon, rather than a play in their school. 

There was no proper announcement to indicate the play had started but the crowd was directed as if this was the meeting and just like in the real meeting, some detractors held hands in one corner and prayed while the attendants asked people take their seats. After everyone was seated, the speakers came to the microphone one by one, giving their “names” and presenting their cases.

According to the production notes, this play is intended to be read, performed and used for discussion and for that purpose the whole script for anybody interested is available online at tinyurl.com/hunterdonplay. 

Special thanks were given to Elizabeth Marsh, Seamus Gibbons, and Jim Bumgardner as the Banned Books Week Committee, Kate McGivern, Chris Talmo and the Facilities Department, Media Technologies, Dean David Marks and the Sydney Silverman Library, Bergen Alumni Theatre (BAT), Theatre Club, Pride Club and President Eric Friedman.

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