Maurice Norman ‘20 in Unveiled Unvarnished. Photo courtesy of Christopher Record.

Clare Harbin ’23 (she/ her)

Davidson College’s Theatre Department’s second departmental show of the semester, Unveiled Unvarnished: Original Stories of Racism and Intolerance Amongst Us, debuted a little less than a month ago. This collaboratively devised show, directed by Charlotte Artist Jeremy DeCarlos, Davidson College’s Ann Marie Costa, and assisted by Olanike Oyedepo ‘20, sought to tell stories of discrimmination based on the cast’s personal experiences. The show was made up of sixteen individual pieces by twenty-five Davidson community members (including three members of the staff/faculty).

These stories were told in the hopes that by sharing their experiences, the audience members would, “listen and to recognize [them]selves somewhere within these narratives—as the oppressor, the oppressed, or the bystander.” Following each show was a 20 minute talk back and an opportunity for audience members to write out action-items they believed the college and the community members should take in order to continue the conversation and actively dismantle racism at Davidson College.

In order to continue the conversations this show evokes, I decided, rather than writing a formal “review,” I would speak with three actors in the production. 

I was grateful to be able to interview:

  • Khalil Adams, a junior computer science major from San Francisco, and a brother of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity incorporated (Tau Omicron chapter) at Davidson College. 
  • Zayna Abuhakema, a first-year intended physics/potential political science double major from Charleston, SC. 
  • Joseph Santi-Unger, a sophmore intended computer science & music double major from Los Alamos, NM

The following are some of the questions I discussed with them.

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Clare: Can you tell me a little bit about your piece? What was the process like?

Khalil: I had gone to a really elite high school in San Francisco—everybody was pretty wealthy. [I was] probably the darkest person there [and it] definitely gave me some trouble. Since they live[d] an entirely different life than me, the microaggressions that I saw—that I had gone through—they just didn’t understand. That made things difficult for me. I was struggling very hard to fit in, because I wanted to make friends and I wasn’t from San Francisco… I wasn’t from their San Francisco. In my [narrative spoken-word] piece I was talking about how that really did a number on me. [The directors] were really dedicated to making the space open for me to express myself and making me feel I was in a trustworthy environment. I think that’s what really allowed me to, to do what I did—really give myself a chance to breathe through the words, so to speak, really say what I meant. And let my feelings out. 

Zayna: My story was about the experience I had in high school. I used my experience as a Palestinian American growing up in a small, southern predominantly white town. We used that [story] to depict the feeling of exclusion I’ve had for most of my life. On the other side of the stage, we had a projection of a wall and Palestine on the back. It turned out really well.

[During the process of the story circle], an actor told us their idea, asked for our input, we gave it, then worked from there. [We had] to be very careful with how we gave constructive criticism in that environment, too. That was the most difficult part of the process: incorporating other people’s ideas, while also remaining true to what you want to see. By the end, we had five completely different story circles. And I think it turned out as well as it could have with the time we had. 

Joseph: I was in the story circle piece, based on the prompt [of exclusion]. All five of us were asked to tell a story, something about discrimination, not being accepted. My story was about autism. I felt a lot of pressure on myself to not do it badly. I realized very quickly how easy that was, and how much damage that could do. At some point, I basically got out of the mindset of talking about autism and into the mindset of trying to talk more about myself. Because on the one hand, I don’t really want to [talk about myself]. On the other hand, the only way I was going to be able to make a piece that was accurately representative was [by] talking about me.

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Clare: Do you have any hopes for how this show will impact our community? Are there any specific initiatives or changes on campus you hope this show will inspire the student body to support?

Khalil: There’s so many things. The Monument Initiative [is] going on right now. [It needs] the urgency of the school and the attention of our peers whose attention we usually don’t have, unless it’s something really important in the news or something happens and then we have their attention. I think their urgency and their support on matters like [the Monuments Initiative], where People of Color have the space and can feel safe and comfortable. [Support for spaces] like that are extremely important.

Zayna: I haven’t had any of those [discriminatory] experiences here yet, but I’ve seen them plenty of times. I’ve heard about them plenty of times, especially from my cast members. Those things happen everywhere, which is something I don’t want people to forget. Wherever you go, this is going to be the case. So I think sparking conversation [is] the most important thing because talking to people after the show, they were definitely moved. Because we’re such a small campus, everyone’s mind is just Davidson: it’s so closed off to what they might be used to, or to what they might see here. I think the first thing that needs to happen is conversation between students. I think that’ll also open up a lot of room for improvement with people who might not have experiences like that, or who might not even believe that those experiences may occur.

Joseph:  I feel very passionately about how the school deals with sexual misconduct. And that’s one of the things I think that the play should have delved deeper into. That should have been talked more about. If I had one thing, I think it should have been talking more about it. 

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Clare: Any last thoughts?

Zayna: I’m just hopeful that the show has even the slightest bit of impact on everyone, the student body and faculty members. So I hope this [has an impact]; we might even do something like this in the future, and maybe it’ll have a bigger impact, but I think this is a good start, so I’m glad I was able to participate. 

Joseph: There was a lot of criticism I heard. [The criticism] that stuck with me the most was that we should have gone farther with some of the pieces. I concur with that. The directors made sure that every scene was something generated by students. Should we have talked more about certain things? Absolutely. Should we have gone deeper into things? Absolutely. But there was only so much that the directors were able to do to stay true to the premise of it.

Khalil: I think the one thought that left me reeling after being a part of this project: learning about the history of Davidson College. It was so crazy to me, like how people that look like me, literally pay to go here. And it wasn’t really that long ago, this school was sending people to fight on behalf of our bondage. People were enjoying that, and people would think it was funny to have fake lynchings and the school itself was built by people that look like me for free. For me, it’s just like another one of those things where it’s like, wow.

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Clare: Hopefully after all of this, there will actually be spaces made so that the foreword can at least be a little better than the past

Khalil: Exactly. And that’s all you can hope for at the end of the day. That the step forward is better [than the past]. 

Clare Harbin ’23 (she/her) is a theatre and religious studies double major from Portsmouth, VA. She can be reached for comment at clharbin@davidson.edu.