An updated sister act

‘iDream’ dreams big at UD’s Black Box Theatre

By Karen Ander Francis

Photo: Phoebe Hayford and Ke’Mara get gossipy in ‘iDream,’ at University of Dayton Dec. 7; photos: Larry Burgess

Who knew that academic research results could make it as a play? A sister act comprised of a playwright and an IT professor—that’s who. Eileen and Suzanne Trauth, University of Dayton alumnae, will return to campus to participate in a talk-back session following a staged reading of their play “iDream,” Wednesday, Dec. 7, at UD’s Black Box Theatre.

The Trauth sisters, both holding doctorates (Suzanne in theatre and Eileen in information science and technology), came up with the idea when Eileen ruminated aloud at a family dinner about her desire to move beyond academia, as she had already done in journal articles about the obstacles women faced in IT, unearthing interviews with women in the U.S. and abroad—and to inform others about the career possibilities within a fast growing field. “I knew I wanted to [reach]… the people who are in a position to do something about it or to benefit from it,” she says.

Suzanne, who had recently completed a docudrama, “A Hurricane Called Katrina,” culled from interviews with survivors of the infamous hurricane, piped up, “There’s always theatre!”

The two went to work, with a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant that required them “to make this a really appealing play. That’s why I wrote it with my sister.  She’s a professional,” Eileen says with a note of pride.

“iDream” opens with a group of five urban students (girls Khadi, Amanda, and Theresa, and boys Titus and Darryl) in a playground as first graders, discovering the relatively new phenomenon of cell phones then follows them through high school graduation night as they deal with issues of growing up, falling in and out of love, and deciding on careers—all the while integrating the new technology into their everyday lives, along with a few surprises.

The play fulfills NSF requirements—and the goals of the sibling playwrights—with an appealing storyline that speaks to both students and adults about the barriers and biases in the IT field, while highlighting a plethora of career possibilities in what was once known simply as computer science. When asked if anyone in the play reflects her own life experience in IT, Eileen clarifies, “All the characters are composites of people I interviewed—women who were working successfully in the field told the stories of their own lives and the stories of women who did not remain in the technology field.”

“iDream” embodies this research in the characters of three women students, Khadi, Theresa, and Amanda, along with young men Titus and Darryl. As they struggle to discover their place in the world, each must confront unique academic and personal issues that seem to limit their dreams. But they do not struggle alone. They have one other—Mrs. O’Donohue, a teacher who changed careers in midlife from IT to the classroom, intentionally placing herself in a position to inform, influence, and inspire a generation of young people.

Another person, this one in the real world, holding a unique position to spread the IT word beyond academia is, ironically, an academic—Thomas Ferratt, Sherman-Standard Register endowed chair in Management Information Systems at UD. Ferratt says of his colleague Eileen Trauth, “Her ideas resonated with me and I thought, ‘We need to have a diverse set of students coming into our programs at MIS,’” he says, “and this is a way to facilitate and encourage that.” Ferratt influenced the School of Business to sponsor “iDream” with funds to fly the playwrights to Dayton for the talk-back and the Theatre, Dance, and Performance Technology Program to produce the staged reading.

Pointing out that his information systems analysis and design students will earn points for attending the production and writing a brief paper reacting to the content of the play, Ferratt sees the play as “a way to bring the attention of current students [to existing barriers in IT] and get them thinking and talking among themselves, and ask, ‘Where can we go with this in the longer term?’”

But the play is not just about the barriers in IT. “iDream” also addresses recruitment, an issue Ferratt finds particularly relevant. “It is common among students who come here that [high school] advisors do not make known to them the possibilities that exist,” he says, noting that most transfer once they are on campus and discover the field.

Eileen, who teaches at Pennsylvania State University, finds this to be true on her campus, as well. She and Ferratt hope the play will point out the array of opportunities in IT, a field whose graduates command top salaries on day one. Both professors agreed, in separate interviews, that potential students and high school guidance counselors still “think Google and Microsoft, hardware design, and production,” when they consider careers in computer science. In fact, there are software development and design (apps and games); robotics, (artificial limbs and manufacturing); government security (Homeland, NSA, and hacking); along with information technology—you know, those IT “geeks” who perform rescue and recovery missions at banks, hospitals, and just about every imaginable business setting every day.

Beyond the play, the Trauth sibling collaboration continues. They have already received NSF funds to develop “iDream” into an online interactive video, “appealing to millennials and others who do not consume media in a linear fashion,” according to Eileen. Eager to devote more time and attention to this new act, she enthuses, “It’s been a great experience working with my sister.”

Stay tuned all you non-linear consumers: IT’s “Sister Act Two” is coming soon to a blue screen near you.

‘iDream’ takes place Wednesday, Dec. 7 at 8 and 10 p.m. at UD’s Black Box Theatre in Fitz Hall, 1529 Brown St. in Dayton. General admission is $12. The price for UD students is $8.  For more information, please contact the Theatre, Dance, and Technology Program at udayton.edu/calendar/2016/12/i-dream-12-7.php or call 937.229.3954.

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About Karen Ander Francis

View all posts by Karen Ander Francis
Karen Ander Francis
Reach DCP Freelance writer Karen Ander Francis at KarenAnder@DaytonCityPaper.com

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