The Claire Trevor School of the Arts Drama Department, in collaboration with Student Affairs’ New Narratives series, will present “Our Life: The Black Youth Stories Project,” a collection of short pieces performed by Black drama students exploring the complexities of normative racism and social inequality in American culture.
“Our Life: The Black Youth Stories Project” is a piece of theatre with a very interesting composition, made up of dramatic sketches, monologues and even a couple of pieces with a more spoken-word style. The small cast of three really gets a workout during the show, each of them performing in both group scenes and hard-hitting solo pieces. Some of the pieces are more inspirational, like the scene where a Black mother is encouraged to tell her own story to her child as a bedtime story rather than a fairy tale; others present a stark reality, recounting the numerous and fatal instances of police brutality on Black individuals.
The drama students in the production delivered an impassioned and involved performance, and, when asked about their motivations for being in the show, spoke on how connected they feel to the material. Their experiences, both as Black actors and as Black students on this campus, are extremely relevant to the stories they tell.
“Way back when, this system was created, and these are the consequences for it. I’m blind to it, and I wear this skin color every day.” said Maribel Martinez, a graduate drama student and one of the actors in “Our Life”.
Both the actors and the production team express how important it is to them for their audience to understand and receive their message.
The production does not hold back, but it also avoids sensationalism. There is a sincerity to the narratives and the actors’ performances that is more than just skill and creativity. Director Amanda Novoa emphasized that the stories of the narrative are from the minds and memories of Black people in the community. “We got to know them, got to hear their stories, and then created this play based on that.” One universal theme emerged amongst the stories of personal experience; racism is not dead.
New Narratives is a branch of the Vice Chancellor’s Student Affairs office that focuses on telling the stories of marginalized peoples; the theme for the series, “Conversations on Identities and Cultures,” provides a space for people of all racial, ethnic, gender and sexual identities to share their experiences, with the ultimate goal of creating a warmer and more inclusive campus climate. After starting on the “Our Life” project, producer Ross Jackson felt the series was the perfect platform for their performance.
“We actually reached out to New Narratives (…) The affiliation is beneficial to both parties because it allows us to expand the reach of this very important initiative,” Jackson says of the collaboration.
For such a profound and powerful production, the message and call to action is relatively straightforward. As Producer Ross Jackson puts it, “The show challenges the conviction that we are living in an era of colorblindness.” Racism, both overt and subtle, all too often abounds; to the point that we are so calloused to it that we don’t realize it’s here even as we stare it in the eyes. Because we live in an era of political correctness and rejection of mainstream extreme racism, we have been conditioned to simply accept that we live in a world without racism, a world where a Black man can be President. The Black Youth Stories Project dares the audience to reject this notion and draw their own conclusions about racism in society.
Even the staunchest racist will find themselves questioning their views after viewing this powerful and engaging production. The performance will take place on Thursday, June 4, Friday, June 5 and Saturday June 6 at 8p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee performance on June 6. The show will take place at the Experimental Media Performance Lab located in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts.