by Micah Wilkins, Editor-in-Chief
School theatre departments usually do not want to tackle the hard stuff, said sophomore Sophie Yates.
“Either the actors can’t handle it or the audience can’t handle it,” Yates said. “The interesting, more difficult stuff gets overlooked. So you see 5,000 productions of the Sound of Music.”
But this year, Warren Wilson’s theatre department is tackling the hard stuff.
Theatre professor Candace Taylor is directing not one but two plays this Fall, which both relate to the department’s year-long theme of “bias.” This year is the first time that Warren Wilson is experimenting with doing a theatre season with a theme. Specifically, both plays deal with the issue of race, a topic that is not usually performed on the Kittredge Theatre stage.
The two plays, which will be performed back-to-back over the course of two weekends later on in the semester, are Spinning Into Butter and Flyin’ West.
Spinning Into Butter, written by Rebecca Gilman, takes place at a small liberal arts college where there is an incident of racial hatred (someone slips a threatening, racist note under the door of an African-American student at the college). The play is about how the administration, the faculty and staff handle the incident.
“I thought it was pertinent here, because a similar incident happened here,” Taylor said.
Last December, Dean of Students Paul Perrine sent out an e-mail to the campus community about a racial incident similar to the one that takes place in the play.
“Either during or immediately after the Thanksgiving break, a threat and a racial slur were written on the inside and outside of an African American student’s residence hall door in Vining,” Perrine wrote in the e-mail.
“The play is reflective of Warren Wilson,” said Yates, who plays the Dean of Students at the college in the play. “It’s the same kind of setting and same type of people. If we do it right, you’re going to leave questioning stuff. Hopefully it would leave the audience kind of wondering…It will be different from most plays.”
In trying to prove that they are not racist, the administration ends up tokenizing the few minority students that attend the college.
“The play examines how we talk of racism,” Taylor said.
The issue causes a lot of the characters in the play to become defensive and to reject the accusations of racism in their community.
“There’s one line in the play where this kid says something like ‘Well, I don’t think anyone around here is racist,’” Yates said. “[At Warren Wilson], we tend to think of ourselves as a very liberal and all-embracing campus and what we always forget is that in a sense we are very privileged and a homogenous group in a lot of ways. How we tend to think of ourselves and how we actually are is very similar to the play.”
The second play to be offered this Fall is Flyin’ West, written by Pearl Cleage, which includes an all-black cast, a rare feat for the Warren Wilson stage.
“It wasn’t until last year that I looked around and saw that we had enough students to make that happen,” said Taylor, who has directed Flyin’ West once before.
Last year, Candace visited a mentor group that supports students of color on campus to recruit people to audition for the play. Out of the six cast members, only two have acting experience.
The play is set in 1898 in Nicodemus, Kansas, an all-black town out west, where African Americans were promised land and prosperity after the Civil War.
“[The play is] celebrating black culture,” said senior Michael Carter, who plays the husband of the main character. “We’re developing an appreciation of that through art. People can get to see that side of our community, get to see actors you might normally not see in plays, hear stories you might not normally hear in the plays we do here.”
This year, Taylor wanted to try out putting on two plays rather than one this Fall.
“Most students say ‘I don’t have time,’” she said.
Usually, rehearsals are five times a week, for 10 weeks, but for these plays, the casts of each production will rehearse on alternating days. This schedule is more flexible for students, but also leads to less rehearsal time.
“I don’t think it will cause too much of a problem,” said Yates. “No one is going to know until two weeks before the performance. We’ll either lose our heads or all be fine.”
In addition, the two plays will feature a rotating repertory—the plays will be performed on alternating days, and the set will change every night.
“It’s really ambitious, what they’re doing,” Carter said.
Stretching the two plays over two weekends will bring reviews in newspapers, more of an audience, and the actors will get the experience of a longer run, Taylor hopes.
“I want people to realize that you can make time to be in a play, and I’m proving to myself that we don’t have to take as long to produce plays,” she said.
Starting the weekend of Nov. 23 and continuing after Thanksgiving break, the weekend of Dec. 6, Spinning Into Butter and Flyin’ West will be performed in Kittredge Theatre. As always, the performances are free to Warren Wilson students.
“There is going to be some awesome acting,” Carter said. “It’s an opportunity to see some really great theatre from a perspective that a lot of people don’t get to see that often.”