An award-winning, internationally known performer and recording artist, as well as a monologist, playwright and teacher of her craft, Milbre Burch is a storyteller in every sense of the word. Bridging the mythic and the personal, Milbre creates original works that bring the power of story into contemporary performances of power and grace.
Sometimes I Sing, Milbre’s original monodrama about domestic violence written and performed in the voice of Minnie Foster Wright, the unseen protagonist in Susan Glaspell’s 1916 masterwork, Trifles, will be published by McFarland Press in a Trifles centennial anthology in 2016! It is Milbre’s first published play!
Milbre plans to tour Sometimes I Sing in repertory with her solo adaptation of Glaspell’s short story, “A Jury of Her Peers,” starting in 2016.
Here at the halfway point, 2015 promises to be another banner year for Milbre Burch!
Last fall, Milbre was commissioned by the Theatre Department at the State University of New York – Plattsburgh to adapt a tenth century Japanese tale into a one-act for Bunraku puppets. When her Tale of a Bamboo Princess had its premiere in April of 2015, Milbre was there as a guest artist. She hopes to see the play remounted by a professional puppet troupe.
In the spring Milbre was commissioned by the Missouri Folk Arts Program based at the University of Missouri to curate a spoken word concert featuring five storytellers from its Community Scholars Program. She visited each of the tellers in their various locales around the state, interviewing Marideth Sisco in West Plains, Loretta Washington outside St. Louis, Gladys Coggswell and Angela Williams in Hannibal and Tracy Milsap in Kansas City. Then she emceed their concert, Made in Missouri: Spinning Place in Stories, at the University of Missouri on June 14th.
That same week, Milbre made her annual appearance as a storyteller at the Missouri Scholars Academy, a gathering of high school students from all over state, who come to the MU campus to take part in classes and presentations from all kinds of disciplines.
In mid-July, she joined visual artist Lee Ann Woolery and theatre artist Suzanne Burgoyne to teach a camp for high school students no the campus of the University of Missouri. The camp focuses on “The Arts as a Portal for Science Communication” and is attracting participants from across Missouri.
At the end of July, Milbre presented a pre-conference performance and workshop for the Healing Stories Alliance at the National Storytelling Network in Kansas City. Her presentation entitled: “Changing Skins: When Practice Intentionally Intersects with Social Justice, ” took place on Thursday, July 30th from 8:30-12 at the Kansas City Marriott Country Club Plaza. It included a performance of her one-woman show, Changing Skins: Folktales about Gender Identity and Humanity, followed by Q and A and an interactive session on researching and creating performances for social justice.
Milbre has recently been commissioned to write two ten-minute plays for the Starting Gate Play Festival being sponsored by Talking Horse Theatre in Columbia. As one of three playwrights chosen to create new work for the Festival, she will have an opportunity to workshop the scripts prior to their production November 12-14th at the Talking Horse Theatre in Columbia.
This fall, Milbre will be coaching the participants in the University of Missouri’s first-ever Three Minute Thesis Competition! Based on a program started by the University of Queensland, the 3MT competition is being hosted by MU’s Graduate Student Leadership Development Program and supported by the MU Office of Graduate Studies.
In November, Milbre will be a featured teller at the 16th Annual Kansas City Storytelling Celebration. The Festival takes place November 5-7th at the Metropolitan City College – Maple Woods in Kansas City. She’ll be joined by Baba Jamal Koram, Bil Lepp and Olga Loya.
Finally, Milbre has been invited to direct Frank Higgins’ play, Black Pearl Sings, at Talking Horse Theatre in February of 2016.
Mark your calendar and join her for one of these events!
2014 was a remarkable year for Milbre Burch!
In February 2014, she was production dramaturg for a run of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” directed by Dr. Cheryl Black in the Rhynsburger Theatre at the University of Missouri.
That same month Milbre’s ten-minute play, “Washing Up,” was featured at the Missouri New Play Festival. It has also had readings in St. Louis and Kansas City.
In March 2014, she was on a performance panel with Bill Doan at the Mid-America Theatre Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. Joined by her director, Dr. Emily Rollie of Monmouth College, Milbre performed “Sometimes I Sing.” Her play script for “Sometimes I Sing,” along with an introductory essay was accepted for publication in a centennial anthology celebrating playwright Susan Glaspell. Edited by Martha Carpentier and Emeline Jouvre, the book is due out in 2016.
In April 2014, Milbre defended her ethnographic/historiographic dissertation, “In her Own Words: Connie Regan-Blake, the Foremother of the Festival-Based American Storytelling Revival,” and received the title Doctor of Philosophy in Theatre. She walked in a graduation ceremony in May where she was hooded by her husband, journalism professor and media history scholar Dr. Berkley Hudson.
Three weeks later Milbre presented a paper on the influence of Susan Glaspell on her work at the American Literature Association conference in DC. She also performed an adaptation of Glaspell’s short story “A Jury of Her Peers” with her own original monodrama “Sometimes I Sing” at that conference.
In July 2014, she attended a three-day workshop with Joe Lambert at the Digital Storytelling Center in Berkeley, CA, creating her first digital story there. Then she traveled to the Sierra Nevadas to emcee at the Sierra Storytelling Festival on the North San Juan ridge.
Later in the month, she attended the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) conference in Scottsdale, AZ and the National Storytelling Network (NSN) conference in Mesa, AZ. The conferences were scheduled simultaneously, and remarkably, she presented at both events.
At ATHE she convened a multi-disciplinary panel on “Embodied Dramaturgy as Compassionate Action.” There she spoke about her work as director and dramaturg for a 2013 production of Deborah Brevoort’s play, “The Women of Lockerbie.” She also performed “Changing Skins” with performance artist Holly Hughes as respondent. Finally, Milbre was a respondent herself for a panel entitled “The Personal is Political: Indicting Immigration Policy through Theatre.”
At the NSN conference, she presented a Circle of Excellence award to Brenda Wong Aoki, and gave the closing keynote entitled “Walking Through Fire to Get to the Light: The Dramaturgy of Diversity.”
This fall she taught a class on “Communication and American Classroom Culture” for international teaching assistants at the University of Missouri. In the class, she is using storytelling and theatre techniques to enhance her students’ spoken word fluency and pedagogy.
In October 2014, she was the featured presenter for Sierra Story Winds: the Sierra Regional Storytellers Retreat in historic Murphys, CA.
And she participated in a panel entitled “Storytelling at the Crossroads of Community and Commodity” at the American Folklore Society annual meeting in Santa Fe, NM in November.
2013 had its high points too!
In October 2013 she was featured at the National Storytelling Festival. There she presented “Changing Skins: Folktales about Gender, Identity and Humanity,” performed research about the wealth and persistence of gender-bending folktales and folkways around the world, to a packed house in the Storytelling Theatre.
She also performed her adaption of Susan Glaspell’s 1917 short story “A Jury of Her Peers” back to back with Milbre’s own original monologue, “Sometimes I Sing,” written and performed in the voice of Glaspell’s unseen protagonist, Minnie Foster Wright.
A performance review of “Changing Skins” written by Allison Downey with David Novak was published in the fall 2013 issue of the peer-reviewed journal, Storytelling, Self, Society. Their article on the piece was called “Changing Normal – The Storyteller as Culture Bearer, Researcher and Change Agent.”
Also in October 2013, Milbre was featured in Sue O’Halloran’s Online Storytelling Festival. That same month she hosted “The Spellbinders: A Revival Community Remembered,” a forum at the American Folklore Society’s annual meeting in Providence, RI. For this presentation, she interviewed four of her former Spellbinder colleagues: Len Cabral, Bill Harley Marc Joel Levitt and Valerie Tutson.
In May 2013 Milbre was featured at the St. Louis Storytelling Festival.
In April 2013 “Washing Up” was named one of four finalists in the National Ten Minute Play Festival and had a reading sponsored by the Kennedy Center American College Play Festival in Washington, DC.
In March 2013 Milbre was the featured presenter at the Riverwinds Storytelling Weekend in Illinois.
In January 2013, a reading of Milbre’s ten-minute play “Washing Up” was featured at the Region V Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival in Lincoln, NE.
That same month Milbre Burch directed Deborah Brevoort’s play, The Women of Lockerbie, for the Columbia Entertainment Company (CEC). The show ran January 17-20 and 24-27, 2013 at the theatre located at 1800 Nelwood Drive in Columbia. The CEC production was a timely one, as 2013 marked the 25th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie Scotland on December 21, 1988.
Outreach activities related to the play included post-show talkbacks with the audience throughout the run, and public appearances by special guest, author and activist Helen Engelhardt from January 26-29. Engelhardt is the widow of Anthony Lacey Hawkins, killed in the Pan Am 103 bombing.
As Kerri Allen wrote in her New York Times review of the play, The Women of Lockerbie is an exploration of “the many pathways of grief — from a patrician American stoicism to a mad Medea-like pathos to a spiritual Celtic worldview.” Structured like a Greek tragedy, The Women of Lockerbie is a fictionalized treatment of the real-life Lockerbie Laundry Project: following the terrorist bombing that downed Pam Am 103 — killing all 259 people aboard and 11 people on the ground — the women of Lockerbie washed, dried and ironed all 11,000 items of clothing found in the crash. The clothing was then returned to victims’ families who wanted them.
Post-show talk-back discussions between the cast, crew, local scholars, and audience members will be scheduled after every show, and on January 26 and 27, the talkbacks will feature a special guest: Helen Engelhardt, educator, activist, independent audio-producer, and author of The Longest Night – A Personal History of Pan Am 103.
Prior to her visit to Columbia, Engelhardt was featured on several local radio programs: Click on the links below to listen to the interviews.
- Columbia Morning with David Lile (KFRU-AM) Jan. 4th
- “Chris and Monica in the Morning” (KPLA-FM) Jan. 4th
- “The Women’s Show” (KPLA-FM) Jan. 4th
- “The So-Called Good Life” (KOPN-FM) with Kevin Walsh on Jan. 23rd
A two-part interview with Helen Engelhardt and Milbre Burch by KBIA-FM radio host Darren Hellwege was broadcast on Tuesday, January 8 and Tuesday, January 15 at 6:30 pm CST. The shows will be streamed (and eventually archived) via the station’s website.
A two-part interview with The Women of Lockerbie director Milbre Burch about the influence of Helen Engelhardt’s friendship on her staging of the show at CEC will appear in the Art Axis blog written by Columbia Daily Tribune features editor Aarik Danielson during the run of the play.
Once Engelhardt arrives in Columbia, she will offer a reading from her memoir The Longest Night – A Personal History of Pan Am 103, followed by a book signing at 2 pm on Saturday, January 26th, in Jesse Wrench Auditorium at the Memorial Union on the University of Missouri campus. The talk is free and open to the public.
On January 27th, Engelhardt will tell a story in the 10:30 am service at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia, 2615 Shepard Blvd. in Columbia. All are welcome.
Finally Engelhardt will be featured in post-show talkbacks following performances of The Women of Lockerbie at CEC on Saturday, January 26th at 7:30 and Sunday, January 27th at 2:00 pm. On Monday and Tuesday she will visit high school and college classrooms as well.
Milbre Burch who says: “I’ve known Helen Engelhardt since 2004, and am grateful to her for sharing her lived experience, as the widow of a Pan Am 103 bombing victim. A peace-maker in the face of heart-breaking loss, she opened the door that led me to The Women of Lockerbie. From the start, my proposal to direct the play included a desire to bring Helen to Columbia. Like the women of Lockerbie’s determination to counter an act of hatred with a ritual of love, Helen’s endeavors offer a model of civic engagement as an act of grace.”
In the wake of her husband’s death, Engelhardt joined Victims of Pan Am 103, Inc., to seek solace, lobby for justice, and promote peace. Since the group’s first press conference in February 1989, she has been a spokesperson to the media about the Lockerbie bombing, working withNewsday, the New York Times, USA Today, Al Jazeera, Stern Magazine, Berliner Zeitung, WBAI Radio in California and WNYC Radio on Long Island.A member of the Board of Victims of Pan Am 103, Inc., she served as editor of its newsletterTruth Quest from 1995 to 2001. Engelhardt is not only author of The Longest Night: A Personal History of Pan Am 103, but also producer of the two-CD spoken word album, Coming Home to Us – A Trilogy of Love, Loss, and Healing which includes “Yesterday and Forever – Recollecting Lockerbie.”
Other Recent Work by Milbre
Sometimes I Sing
Milbre Burch premiered her original monologue, inspired by Susan Glaspell’s celebrated one-act play Trifles, in Columbia, Missouri in March, 2012. Next, she presented it at the International Conference on American Drama and Theater in Seville, Spain in May, 2012. This fall she is taking the monodrama to Georgia State College and University in Milledgeville, GA.
Growing out of her research on Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright Susan Glaspell’s 1916 one-act play, Trifles, Milbre spearheaded a collaborative production entitled Justice Served: three short plays about women confronting violence. With Glaspell’s play as the centerpiece, Justice Served included an adaptation of a Zora Neale Hurston short story and Burch’s own Sometimes I Sing, an original monodrama written in the voice of Glaspell’s unseen protagonist, Minnie Wright.
Reviews of Sometimes I Sing
“Milbre Burch gives an inspired performance in Sometimes I Sing, as she recreates the voice and the inner life of an abused woman imprisoned for the murder of her husband. Her monodrama is a theatrical tour de force that moved me to tears.”
Patricia Bryan, Glaspell scholar and author of Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America’s Heartland, a nonfiction book about the murder trial that inspired Susan Glaspell’s play Trifles.
Thank you so much for making Minnie Wright come alive in Sometimes I Sing. Through your wonderful voice her voice rang forth. It’s a voice that can be heard in all Susan Glaspell’s plays: that of a woman who struggles to be heard. You actualized that need so beautifully.
Linda Ben-Zvi, Professor of Theatre, Tel Aviv University, author of Susan Glaspell, Her Life and Times, and co-editor with J. Ellen Gainor of Susan Glaspell: The Complete Plays.
Justice Served, a trio of short plays about women confronting violence is absolutely mesmerizing. Milbre Burch will hold you spellbound in the finale, Sometimes I Sing.
Bill Clark, Columbia (Missouri) Daily Tribune
Your performance last Thursday night of your brilliant script was so lovely and so moving. It made Susan Glaspell’s one-act play Trifles so much richer and deeper.
Jim Miller, Professor of Theatre, University of Missouri, director/designer for over 100 musicals and plays.
Milbre Burch is perfect in the role of Minnie Wright. I have seen her perform maybe a dozen different roles. Every time, she transports me into the world she is creating. Her acting/storytelling ability seems supernatural to me.
Steve Weinberg, author of Taking on the Trust: The Epic Battle of Ida Tarbell and John D. Rockefeller, and Professor Emeritus at the School of Journalism of the University of Missouri, offering courses related to covering the criminal justice system as part of an innocence project.
I was fortunate enough to have been in the audience last Saturday for the Justice Served plays… It brought home once again of power of story. Thank you for all your hard work and creative vision on behalf of our friends and neighbors who continue to suffer in the shackles of violence.
Heather Harlan, Phoenix Programs, Columbia, Missouri
Brilliant research and writing… a seamless weaving of history, hardship, suffering, redemption.
Mary Kay Blakely, contributing editor to Ms. magazine since 1981, former “Hers” columnist for The New York Times, member of National Advisory Board for the National Writer’s Union.
Changing Skins: Folktales about Gender, Identity, and Humanity
Changing Skins: Folktales about Gender, Identity, and Humanity premiered in Columbia, Missouri in June, 2010. Since then, it has toured to Atlanta (2010), Austin (2010), Nashville (2010), New York City (2011), SUNY-Binghamton (2011), and SUNY-Plattsburgh (2012) and finally at the Women and Theatre Program Pre-conference prior to the 2012 Association of Theatre in Higher Education conference in Washington, D.C. in August.
Drawing on science, scholarship and story — Changing Skins is intended to widen the range of possibilities for “happily ever after.”
Changing Skins: Folktales about Gender, Identity and Humanity draws from a pastiche of oral tradition stories including: creation stories highlighting the ambiguous nature of gender roles and identities; a tale of a young woman who shuns her suitors because she has fallen in love with the moon; folktales of female-to-male and male-to-female transformation; interspecies family units; a boy who gives birth, and the tale of a Djinn and a Princess who trade anatomical parts.
Changing Skins is performed research on the wealth and persistence of gender-bending folktales and cultural expressions around the world. These riveting tales are interwoven with personal observations of the social construction of gender, and notes on historical and contemporary thinking about the diversity of human and animal gender expressions.
What’s clear from Burch’s research is that people have been musing about the impact of societal constructs on individual lives, and the possibility and meaning of gender — and interspecies — border crossings for over two millennia.
“Our bodies are the landscapes in which we live. The culture of our birth embroiders its rules upon that embodied landscape. The stories that the culture offers us are meant to teach us how to be human in the particular ways that culture knows how. The stories we find for ourselves may reinforce or subvert the rules by which we are expected to live. These stories are as old as humanity and as new as yesterday’s gossip.” Milbre Burch