Facing Our Truth Communicates Racial Injustice through Theatrical Medium

Drew Eastland-

Funded in part by a Mellon grant, the Facing Our Truth production was made up of independent scenes with common themes resounding throughout the performance. Photo courtesy of Chris Record/College Communications

Davidson’s Theatre Department has committed itself to emphasizing the consequences of systematic racism in the United States through its recent production of Facing Our Truth.

The show featured five different ten to fifteen minute scenes: “Night Vision,” “Some Other Kid,” “The Ballad of George Zimmerman,” “No More Monsters Here,” and “Dressing.” Each scene featured a seemingly peaceful setting with a dark twist. Most of the plays ended tragically with the death of a main character. This stark contrast between everyday situations and catastrophe created a powerful audience response.

“The technique of moving from very normal situations with which people can identify to someone’s [death] is powerful,” President Carol Quillen stated. “It is not an experience that a lot of people at Davidson would be able to relate to, [and] it opens up opportunities for conversation.”

The play featured a number of difficult narratives. The cast had to make an effort to both put on a convincing performance, but also emphasize the portion of the play that transcends the show itself.

“The most fascinating thing to me about this play was the way the cast and production team brought the script to life,” explained Mariah Clarke ‘18, President of the Black Student Coalition (BSC). “It was difficult to sit through the play and not be provoked…”

Due to the black box style theatre in which the play was presented, members of the audience were able to see each other during the performance, creating a unique communal atmosphere.

“One thing I paid attention to was the audience reactions; to me that was the most powerful thing,” noted Sabid Hossain ‘21. “[When] people in the audience were reacting to a death scene, the white people seemed shocked…by the death, but when you looked at the people of color, it seemed to resonate [with] them in a way that said ‘this is [reality]; it does not shock us.’”

Actors also noted the relationship they had with the audience. As a cast member, Grady Pearson ’19 described his interaction with the audience. “One of the best parts of performing live is feeding off the audience,” he said. “It has been neat finding moments in the show where people are responding.”

The play was directed by Dr. Sharon Green, a professor in the Theatre Department, and selected by a committee made up of theatre majors and faculty. The production was funded by a portion of a large grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation received last January. The grant applies to justice, equality, and community issues in the Davidson community. Green wanted to present a play that related to current events and would spark discussion throughout campus.

“I was really interested in directing something that would engage a cast and production team in some knowledge about those broader issues,” explained Green. “[Facing Our Truth] felt like a great opportunity to create a performance that would lead to asking some of these big questions, and perhaps, not answer them because they are complex to answer, but at least get people to start thinking about these questions, and thinking about them in a different way.”

This production delves into current and prevalent issues. Facing Our Truth is a fairly recent collection of scenes and has only been performed at a few college campuses. Each ten-minute scene was written by a different playwright, commissioned by the New Black Fest in light of the George Zimmerman verdict.

“This is probably the most relevant piece of theatre we’ve ever produced,” said Theatre Department Chair Dr. Mark Sutch. “It is the most zeitgeist-based piece since I’ve been here.”

Another unique component to the show was the number of new actors and actresses. Of the ten cast members, five of them, including Pearson, were making their first appearances in a Davidson show. This may be due in part to the short plays, which allowed for a different rehearsal process requiring less individual commitment.

The play also involved collaboration between the cast and crew. In fact, before beginning rehearsal, Green took the entire production crew to the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte to see the exhibit “No Justice No Peace.”

“The exhibit collected images of different police protests,” Pearson said. “It was a really cool way that [Green] formulated to get us in the mindset of the play.”

The play takes a turn from traditional forms of rhetoric surrounding racial injustice by showing, rather than telling, many perspectives. In this way, the performance offered a new take on familiar conversations.

“How easy and how often conversations today between race, gender, and anything can so easily turn into shouting matches that are completely unproductive,” reflected Pearson. “Theatre gives people an opportunity to see things from multiple perspectives.”

“Many students and faculty talk about how difficult it is to have conversations on important topics in the context of a very polarized country,” added Quillen. “These plays point out the assumptions that we are making all the time and how we all fill in the blanks in our imaginations and when we have very few actual facts.”

Each of the five shows featured different individuals or groups to facilitate a post-show discussion. Post-show guest speakers included Braxton Winston ‘06, recently elected Charlotte City Councilman.

“It is my hope that the show catalyzes discussion and that the post-show events deepen that discussion,” said Green. “I wanted to radically re-think what could happen in those post-show events.”

Facing Our Truth is really important for Davidson because we are in the ‘bubble,’” said cast member Ariel Chung ‘21, who was performing in her first Davidson show. “The real world is different than Davidson…where you can just leave out your laptop and nobody will steal it.”

The production’s cast and crew knew their performance could hardly resolve all of the issues it tackled, but they emphasized the importance of opening space for further dialogue on the subject of systematic oppression.

“We cannot, in one performance, solve hundreds of years of racial injustice,” emphasized Green. “[B]ut if we can ask questions and if we can as a college community recognize that continuing to ask those questions throughout our lives is imperative then we have gotten somewhere.”