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Remembering His Co-Rememberer: Doan’s New Play Turns Loss into Reclamation

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Doan during rehearsal for "Drifting"

A month away from his New York opening and weeks from the Penn State preview of his play, Drifting, Bill Doan is ready to bring all of his separate interests to the stage. Doan, professor in the School of Theatre at Penn State and embedded researcher in the Arts and Design Research Incubator, manages to combine his solo performances, drawings from his graphic novel, and writings in a play about relationships and memory.

“We’ve essentially made a movie from home videos, archival footage, and my drawings that will be on a screen behind me, and in front of which, I will perform live,” explained Doan.

Drifting, directed by Andrew Belser, theatre professor and director of the Arts and Design Research Incubator, is driven by Doan’s attempt to come to terms with the passing of his sister from a traumatic brain injury. The concept of drifting between consciousness and unconsciousness features prominently in the performance, as Doan flashes between past and present in dialogue with a recording of his sister’s voice (voiced by actress Megan Pickrell, who played the role of his sister in a 2015 version of the play, performed at Penn State Hershey Medical Center).

“The earlier version of Drifting was about my sister Sam’s condition and about being caught in a traumatic moment – confronting a body in a hospital bed. Now it’s about reminding people that she had a full life, that she was more than her condition.”

Crediting Belser for helping him realize his vision, Doan admits that neither he nor Belser knew how the play was going to end and were surprised when they realized its natural conclusion. Although Doan shares his memories and drawings with his large family of supportive siblings, mother, wife, and daughter, he has held the details of the play close to him because he wants them to experience it as audience members.

“At first, my family was concerned at my revisiting the play because of how emotional the experience was for me the first time, but it is energizing me this time, instead of pulling me down. In telling it now, there are moments that are painful, but it’s joyful to share her life with others.”

Doan is an artist who makes sense of what happens in his life through his work. He performed a solo show, "A Brief Anatomy of My Anxiety," as part of the Dixon Place Theatre’s Lounge series in New York in October 2016, and excerpts from his graphic novel were published in "The Annals of Graphic Medicine/Internal Medicine" in December 2016. He particularly felt the need to see Drifting to completion before taking on his new role of director of the School of Theatre July 1, 2017.

“I find Drifting to be beautifully uplifting because it holds onto these trace lines in our lives,” added Belser. “It’s about memory and the way we are constantly reinventing our memories.”

Drifting, which is still in development, will preview Thursday, April 20 at 5:30 p.m. in the Pavilion Theatre on Penn State’s University Park campus, in advance of his premiere in New York City on May 18 at the Royal Family Performing Arts Space.

For more information about Drifting, read the press release on the College of Arts and Architecture website: http://artsandarchitecture.psu.edu/news/doan-perform-drifting-new-play-development

The Arts & Design Research Incubator (ADRI) provides support for high-impact arts and design research projects. All events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit http://adri.psu.edu or call 814-863-5126. Connect with the ADRI at www.facebook.com/PennStateADRI.