Last weekend, the doors of the Performing Arts Theatre were opened to the public for the world premiere of Sheri Wilner’s “Kingdom City.” Directed by Theatre & Dance Dept.’s BFA professor Risa Brainin, this is the fifth new play produced by the department in the last six years.

“Kingdom City” is an exploration of the casualties of censorship. In the play, a high school production of “The Crucible” is cancelled because it is deemed inappropriate by a school board and members of the community. Wilner got the idea for the play from a New York Times article published in Feb. 2006 about a high school in Fulton, Missouri, that canceled its production of the Arthur Miller play.

“First of all, [the NY Times article] got me really angry and also really terrified, and those are good emotions for a playwright to draw from,” Wilner said. “The idea that anything was up for debate [or] could be censored; it felt like nothing was safe.”

The idea that nothing is safe from censorship is a prevalent theme of this production. The show makes the audience think, but rather than forcing one-sided opinions and commentary through the dialogue, both sides of the issue are thoroughly explored.

“I thought it would be really uninteresting if it was just me on my high horse talking about how stupid or foolish these people were, so it deserved a much more complex examination,” Wilner said. “I started thinking about reasons they had that I could agree with. So I tried to think of a situation in which “The Crucible” would be a dangerous play for these kids. So it was important for me, in a way, to make my side wrong, because so much of it for me was trying to understand the other side.”

A unique challenge that this production faced was that the script was being developed and completed as rehearsals progressed. Wilner and Brainin both agreed that the show is very much a result of collaboration and hard work in rehearsal.

“Working on a new play means that the text itself is evolving through the rehearsal process,” Brainin said. “Practically speaking, the actors are having to learn new material on an almost daily basis. As the playwright discovers how a scene works on its feet, the writing changes.”

The rawness of the material presents many challenges, especially for the actors who are subject to rewrites throughout the rehearsal process. The result, however, is a smooth, well-developed production.

“It was almost like I got to interview my characters,” Wilner explained. “There were certain times when I got to say to my actors, ‘Do you think you’d say this right now, or feel this way right now?'”

Another aspect of “Kingdom City” that sets it apart from most main-stage performances at UCSB is the casting. BFA professor Anne Torsiglieri and grad student Jason Narvy were invited to portray Miriam and Daniel Bloom, joining forces between students and more professionally trained actors.

“Normally, when a new play is done at a college, it’s college students playing all the parts. It was sort of important to me that for those two parts [referring to Miriam and Daniel Bloom], the actors would have life experiences to draw from,” Wilner said.

Where “Kingdom City” will go after it leaves UCSB is yet to be determined.

“The goal is to provide a launch for these new works. We focus on the development of the play and hope that through this process, the playwright learns enough about how the play functions to take it to the next level,” Brainin said.

Wilner expressed great gratitude toward the school for allowing her to produce her work here, and hopes that the community surrounding the school appreciates the work done in the Dept. of Theater & Dance.

“I hope in the years to come that people start thinking of this as another theater in Santa Barbara that’s doing professional work instead of amateur student productions,” Wilner said.

Performances run through Feb. 20 with shows starting at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at the Theater & Dance box office, and online at