What does racism look and sound like?
What happens when we ignore it? How can we better address it in the moment, rather than later?
The questions seem straightforward enough – yet are typically uncomfortable ones to answer or sort out – which is exactly why an original theatre production like Middlesex’s Racial Equity Project (better known on campus as REP) was especially enlightening and profound. In addition to being a unique solution to delivering theatre in a pandemic, REP was novel and effective in its creative process, subject matter, presentation, and interaction with the audience.
The script was developed over several weeks this past fall by a cast of 16 Middlesex students who worked in partnership with Sojourn Theatre, an innovative, award-winning ensemble theatre company based in Portland, Oregon. In collaboration with Sojourn actors – and with input from Performing Arts Head Tom Kane and Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Erika Prahl – the students created scenes that were inspired by everyday conversations and statements, providing specific, commonplace examples of racist attitudes and behavior. After some scenes, the audience was separated into small groups (virtually, using Zoom’s “breakout rooms” feature) to discuss what they had just observed and suggest constructive ways to respond in each situation.
Asking viewers to “come curious, caring, and humble” to each collaborative show, the cast performed REP from their own respective homes for Middlesex audiences over Zoom – not once, but seven times in six days last December, so that students and faculty could watch and talk about it with their own dorm or day house, just as they would in Community Life meetings. Ultimately, by paying attention and listening, raising questions and confronting situations when they happen, every person can choose to be an ally who works against racism. “We need to stand together,” as one actor stressed.
At the conclusion of every performance, audience members were asked to think about and then type in (using the “chat” function) an action they intend to take to combat racism, completing the phrase, “I will….” With the responses collected in Zoom, the community can revisit these plans and pledges in future discussions as Middlesex continues to work toward becoming a truly inclusive and equitable school for all students.