Recent Wooster production addresses racial masking

Sarah Caley

Staff Writer

 

Last weekend, the BIPOC Performing Arts Alliance and Alpha Psi Omega co-hosted the premiere of “The Grotowski Method,” which is the final production in the Theatre of Urgency series created by the Department of Theatre & Dance last fall. “The Grotowski Method” was created by award-winning Latina playwright Elaine Romero, directed by Professor of Theatre & Dance Jimmy Noriega and featured Hayden Lane-Davies ’21, Ivan Akiri ’22, Gabby Sullivan ’22, Pookar Chand ’23 and Owen Belfiore ’23.

“The Grotowski Method” opens with five actors chastising each other for not knowing their lines after being dismissed from rehearsal. They have all traveled together to a remote part of Poland to learn from a master of the Grotowski Method, an acting technique that requires a willingness to shed the emotional masks that people wear in their everyday lives. Although the actors have been sent into the woods by their teacher to work on their technique, they are instead bickering amongst themselves and questioning their decision to make this journey. Gradually, their conversation evolves into a pointed commentary on racial inequality in theater. Akiri, the only Black actor, quotes the opening of the Declaration of Independence and questions whether it “works” in this space. Belfiore dismissively responds that it “should work in all spaces” as a foundational document of the United States. Chand, the only other actor of color, responds, “It should. But does it?” As the three white actors grapple with the inequalities that are being revealed to them, Chand illustrates the connection between the masks that Grotowski wants actors to remove and the masks that marginalized individuals must maintain to fit in with society. The show ends with Akiri and Chand telling the group that making mistakes is necessary, but these mistakes must be acknowledged in order to move forward.

Following the screening, attendees participated in a discussion about racial issues in theater, particularly with regard to the College’s theater program. Victoria Silva ’23 and Teresa Ascencio ’23, the co-presidents of the BIPOC Performing Arts Alliance, spoke on how similar “The Grotowski Method” is to their own experiences at Wooster. Ascencio stated that she felt isolated when she joined the College’s theater program due to its majority-white student body. While both Ascencio and Silva expressed gratitude for being able to form the BIPOC Alliance, Silva also conveyed her frustration that the only two Latinx students in the department are bearing most of the burden of racial equality work. Jaz Nappier ’22 shared her experience searching the College’s library for plays by and for Black female artists to stage as part of her Independent Study next year — there were none to be found. The Theatre of Urgency series marks some progress for the Department of Theatre & Dance, but there is still plenty of work to be done. Silva and Ascencio want to hold more events where students can show up for their BIPOC peers and are hopeful that the department will begin to produce more BIPOC-centered shows. Their guiding philosophy is one that Pookar states in “The Grotowski Method”: “I want you to have space. And I want space too.”