Around the World: a 4-year journey to the senior production stage


Donna Tillman rehearses for her upcoming senior production. Photo: Ethan Rogers

Donna Tillman, a senior theatre arts major, will perform her senior production, a one-woman show that has been in the making for four years and features stories from all over the globe called “Around the World” on Saturday at 5 p.m. in Stratton Hall.

While she was still in high school, Tillman learned that performance majors (now theater arts) at BJU were required to create a senior production, and she immediately began to brainstorm possible show ideas. One idea stood out to her, and she wrote it on a sticky note that she still carries with her. It reads: “Around the World,” along with the names of various countries. This seed of an idea to feature stories from around the globe stuck with Tillman all through college, and when the time came to choose her senior production, she went back to that 4-year-old sticky note.

Her idea for the show had developed quite a bit as Tillman is an avid reader and took in as many stories from as many countries as she could, trying to find the perfect tales to fit her show. When she found a good story, she put a pin on a map of the country from which that story came, giving her a visual way to see where all the stories were coming from.

“I digested over 2,000 pages of stories in the last year,” Tillman said.

The hardest part for Tillman wasn’t finding good stories; it was picking the best stories. She went from 60 stories to 21 stories to eight stories and, finally, to the six stories that she will perform in the show.

“Every time I cut a story, it felt like cutting a friend,” Tillman said.

But as difficult as the selection process was, Tillman was satisfied with her final list of stories, feeling that they well represented a large span of time periods, cultures and story types.

“There’s everything from epics to folk tales, and all the stories have a different texture and tone,” Tillman said.

One of the challenges for Tillman was giving each story the nuance it deserved. Every culture has unique aspects of its storytelling that need to be brought out in detail, Tillman said. She knew it would be difficult, but that’s exactly what she wanted: a show that challenged her ability as an actor, and that would also be entertaining and accessible to her audience.

Tillman views the show as the starting point of her career, in which she hopes to use stories to encourage and witness to the world, whether that’s telling stories at a school,  a cancer hospital or a zoo. Tillman wants to share the joy of stories with whoever will listen, and she hopes that students and members of the community alike will come to her show and experience that joy.

“The world we live in is so engrossed with media, whether it’s TV or movies,” Tillman said. “I think people need to learn again how to sit back and enjoy a good story.”