Race has long been a salient topic in the United States, but the production of Baltimore by the Department of Performing and Media Arts and the Ithaca Civic Ensemble demonstrates why it is so important to talk about right now. The play touches on crucial concepts such as police brutality, the black-white binary, intersectionality and jokes that go too far, all on a college campus. An African-American student and RA named Shelby (Edem Dzodzomenyo ’20) goes to interview her university’s new dean, Dean Hernandez (Irving Torres ’18) for the newspaper, and they argue about his convocation speech and the issue of race on campus, which Shelby prefers to ignore. She leaves frustrated about his views on race and goes to vent about the encounter with her best friend, Grace (Sabrina Liu ’20). During their conversation, Grace receives a message and informs Shelby that someone has drawn a caricature of a black woman on the door of Shelby’s resident, Alyssa, who is black.
The entire cast and directing team is black, a deliberate shock to the conventional theatre world. Or, should I say Cornell’s theatre world? The first full-length play to stage exclusively people of color in the Department of Performing and Media Arts, Life Sentence was written by the trailblazing playwright Gloria Majule ’17. “Coming here my freshmen year I felt a need for more roles for people of color. At first it was more out of anger for the lack of people of color and then it became something more.” Majule began the writing process over two years ago as her thesis, and will finally witness her goals embodied on stage Thursday in the Blackbox Theatre of the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts.
There is no artistic experience quite like going to the theatre. Each performance of a show functions as a unique entity, and there is a challenge in recreating it night after night with consistency. Part of this challenge naturally involves exploration of the many ways in which the audience can connect with the living, breathing actors who are the true substance of the play. At its best, a show can engage with the spectator in intimate ways that no other medium can match. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) [Revised] — which played on Feb.
For 42 minutes, five dancers danced, acted and reacted as they and their audience examined the concept of the counterfactual. Through modern choreography and interaction with the audience, the dancers of The Counter-Factual presented a compelling performance that drew the audience in from the first note of music. The Counter-Factual dance concert this past Thursday at the Schwartz Center’s black box theatre, was directed by Zoe Jackson ’16 and co-choreographed by Jackson and Brooke Wilson ’16. It consisted of eight pieces, separated by the music to which they were set, and featured five dancers, Aubrey Akers ’19, Juliana Batista ’16, Hannah Fuller ’19, Grace Mitchell ’17 and Ariana Otto ’19. The small, intimate venue fit the theme of the counterfactual well, as it contradicted, the traditional experience of a dance performance.
I have always loved intimate theatre spaces, especially black box theatres, so I may be a little biased when I say that having Ten-Minute Playfest in the Schwartz’s black box was a brilliant idea — but it definitely was. On Saturday night, the audience of about 100 people was buzzing with excitement over the six plays they were about to see and they were not disappointed. As we took our seats and the lights dimmed, the entire cast came out and sang a cover of Chicago’s “Cellblock Tango” to remind audience members what they should and should not do during the performance, perhaps the most effective and memorable way I have ever been told to shut my phone off during a show. And then, of course, the plays started and I was blown away. The first play, On the Brink, directed by performing and media arts Ph.D candidate J. Michael Kinsey Ph.D ’19, was definitely my favorite.