Brittany Bradford and Juliana Canfield live in double rooms in the Bellinger Hall dorms. They share suite-style bathrooms. They attend classes. In so many ways, they live the lives of normal students.
But when the curtain goes up on The Profane, that changes.
Bradford and Canfield are members of the 2016 Chautauqua Theater Company conservatory and, since the play opened last weekend, they’re two of the stars of The Profane.
The Profane, which will be performed at 2:15 p.m. July 30 and at 2:15 p.m. and 8 p.m. July 31 in Bratton Theater, tells the story of Raif Almedin, a lapsed Muslim and immigrant to the United States whose prejudice flares up when his youngest daughter becomes engaged to a man from a highly religious Muslim family. The new play is a Chautauqua-commissioned piece from playwright Zayd Dohrn.
Bradford, who plays Aisa, Raif’s oldest daughter, as well as the additional role of Dania, is a graduate student at The Juilliard School. It was there that she met Vivienne Benesch, who was guest directing a show.
“I loved working with her,” Bradford said. “I felt like we spoke the same language as artists.”
Meanwhile, Canfield, a Yale University graduate student, had already met Benesch and Andrew Borba, co-artistic directors of Chautauqua Theater Company, because of CTC’s yearly visits to Yale. She plays Emina, the daughter whose engagement is the source of the show’s conflict.
The CTC conservatory actors appear in main-stage productions and New Play Workshops throughout the summer, with the whole group set to act in The Taming of the Shrew, which will be directed by Borba in August. When they’re not working on plays or other programs, like the Young Playwrights Project earlier this year, they’re taking classes in things like voice and devised gaming.
“[Benesch and Borba] do a really remarkable job, I think, of bringing together students who are in training from all over the country from different programs but who really get along as a sort of temporary company,” Canfield said.
Though the conservatory members are heavily involved in CTC productions, The Profane has four veteran guest actors to its three conservatory members.
“One of the reasons I was really excited about working on this play is because I would get an opportunity to work with professional actors who have been working for a number of years, and I don’t get to do that that often in school,” Canfield said.
Neither of the women are Muslim, but they found it easy to connect with the script. Canfield said it was “instantly compelling” and that she loves doing new work, while Bradford said she identified parts of the script that reminded her of herself or people she knew.
“I was sort of prepared to feel alienated in some way just because I’m not a part of the culture that’s being explored in the play,” Canfield said. “But there was so much recognition and I was really laughing a lot as I was reading it and was very moved by parts of it.”
She feels each of the show’s eight characters brings a different perspective on Islam to the table.
The two agree that Dohrn isn’t forcing an agenda with the show.
“If there was an agenda at all in the play, I think it would be that you can’t look at something as black or white,” Bradford said.