In most plays, audience members sit quietly in their seats and politely keep their thoughts to themselves until they have left the theater. But one upcoming production will encourage engagement, with the audience deciding how the story should end.

"The Defamation Experience," coming to Cal State Bakersfield's Dore Theatre on Tuesday, is part play, part interactive event and part discussion. The courtroom drama about a civil suit between a Jewish real estate developer and an African-American tenant lets the viewers decide the case, then the actors open up the floor for a conversation about biases at the end.

"What's really fun is it's interactive," said Jeanine Kraybill, assistant professor and pre-law adviser in CSUB's political science department. "The audience becomes the jury and engages with the actors and each other."

The play, a stripped-down production written by Todd Logan and performed by a touring company, will explore different areas of biases and how they affect people's lives. Who will the jury be more inclined to believe, and does it have anything to do with any personal prejudices?

"The dynamics of the play uncover racial, ethnic, class and religious biases," Kraybill said. "It looks at these biases and how they play out legally and in society."

Because the production's schedule quickly gets booked up when a tour is announced, a large and efficient team was needed to get a tour stop here. Members of the Kern County Bar Association Charitable Foundation teamed up with the university's provost office to bring it to Bakersfield, and several local law firms and organizations got on board to help their efforts. The CSUB Pre-Law Society is also helping to host it.

"We got a nice range of community members to help fund and support the play, that way we could open it up to the community," Kraybill said, noting that it's free and open to anyone who wants to go. "It's been truly a community endeavor." 

With so many local law offices helping to put the event on (too many to list here), pre-law students in the crowd will have the opportunity to meet with people from a range of careers in the law and interact with them on a professional basis, Kraybill said. 

"Kern County has such a dedicated legal community," Kraybill said. "They're really invested in not only doing their jobs really well, but also volunteering their time."

For law students in the crowd, Kraybill hopes the experience will "cultivate a passion for the law," she said. The conversations that arise from the play won't end there, either. 

"Myself and other professors, we intend to not have this be a one-time conversation, but carry it into the classroom," Kraybill said. "We intend to have a longer-term conversation and use this as a teaching tool."

The university and its various partners knew students wouldn't be the only ones who might benefit from "The Defamation Experience," so they wanted to open it up to the community.

"We realize that issues of bias impact the larger community," Kraybill said. "An institute of higher learning shouldn't just be for the students, staff and faculty. It's also responsible for providing programming for the community." 

Kraybill said it's an important time to be engaged in issues of biases. Though the conversations might be difficult, people are better for them if they can work through their prejudices.

"I hope maybe some of their own biases are revealed and this inspires them to correct them," Kraybill said. "I hope our students are inspired by the play, particularly students who are thinking about a career in the law. I hope their passion ignites."

Kelly Ardis can be reached at 661-395-7660. Follow her on Twitter at @TBCKellyArdis.

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