The title of Abrianna Belvedere’s (22C) devised theater thesis piece, “Morning Has Broken,” came from the hymn of the same name that was played at her grandmother’s funeral.

Performed by Belvedere and Cicely Jackson (24C) on March 18 and 19 at the Schwartz Center, the work centered around teenage Belvedere’s efforts to move beyond generational trauma. The performance focused heavily on movement, religion and reflection.

“‘Morning Has Broken’ is a piece about the journey of healing from intergenerational trauma and cycles of trauma and is ultimately a piece about breaking cycles,” Belvedere said. “I was telling these stories, and they were all connected to the ritual of the funeral mass.”

“Morning Has Broken,” a labor of two years for Abrianna Belvedere (22C), was performed at the Schwartz Center. (Alison Barlow/The Emory Wheel)

Belvedere worked closely with Jackson and two stage managers to bring the devised piece to life. Devised theater is a method of creation wherein the performance is created through improvisation and collaboration rather than the traditional playwriting pipeline of writing, editing and producing. 

“You have the source material and you decide all of the elements at once,” Belvedere said. “Starting a play in playwriting is like an assembly line, but devised theater is like a spider web—especially in solo-devised theater—it spins out from the creator.”

For Belvedere, writing the piece proved to be difficult and she struggled with finding a writing process that “felt right.”

“I’m an incredibly stubborn artist,” she said. “I refuse and rebuke forms and ways of doing things all the time.””

Belvedere would go on long drives while recording her thoughts on voice memos which she would then comb through later, searching for things that she wanted to include in “Morning Has Broken.”

Once the initial draft had been created, the two actors and two stage managers honed in on specific language, movements and feelings from the piece. For Belvedere, movement was the intuitive starting point. 

“It felt so natural to express a lot of ideas with movement,” she said. “The ending movement was the first thing I made for this piece.”

Belvedere and Jackson would move instinctively when prompted with individual words by the stage managers that the four had deemed essential to the piece. 

“We tried to focus on impulsive movement—honoring impulse—and then we would extrapolate pieces of the text,” Belvedere said. “We worked on ‘hollow’ as in ‘holy,’ ‘hollow’ as in ‘empty’, and ‘hollow’/‘holler’ as in ‘a valley in Appalachia.’” 

Jackson said that the piece often came together in unexpected ways.

“They would call out one of the words that we felt was important from the script and then we would move,” Jackson said. “[Belvedere] and I would have either similar or completely different movements.”

Abrianna Belvedere’s (22C) theater thesis performance featured a character called The Figure, a reflection of herself. (Alison Barlow/The Emory Wheel)

The found forms were then combined to create choreography. The creators also used movements they observed in their daily lives.

“There were some things that I saw my roommate do that would make me say, ‘Huh’ and then they made it into the piece,” Jackson said.

In “Morning Has Broken,” teenage Abrianna engages with The Figure, a faceless, cloaked and crowned character played by Jackson. The two move in tandem and intertwine both physically and spiritually by the end of the work.

“The Figure, for me, is my healed self, the person I want to grow up to be, and the person who is willing to confront these things with kindness and resolve,” Belvedere said. “It was always The Figure, this kind of ghostly being, leading me around.” 

The journey to “Morning Has Broken” has been long for Belvedere, but she has found an inkling of what she was looking for when she began her process. 

“It’s been two years since I started working on this piece,” Belvedere  said. “It looks incredibly different from what it started as.”

As the piece has evolved over this time period, Belvedere said that she has, too. 

“I changed with the piece and the piece changed, as well,” Belvedere said. “It was a very special experience.”

Both Belvedere and Jackson expressed great affection for the creation process. The four creators established specific boundaries and got to know each other closely during rehearsals.

“I am so grateful to have been a part of this show,” Jackson said. “There was no way we couldn’t have grown close. I had never been able to sit down and put thoughts into a piece like that before.”

Belvedere said that her greatest achievement within the creation of her project was finding a sense of enjoyment in the process by not subscribing to perfectionism or focusing on the end goal.

“We let the process take us where we needed to be,” Belvedere said. “We were working with the shared understanding that what we find is what we need to find.”