Vibrancy Theater’s ‘We Are Proud to Present…’ to spark conversations with parallels between theater and reality

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In this episode of Conversations From Studio B, WOUB Culture’s Rosie Wong spoke with cast and crew members of Vibrancy Theater’s production of We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915: Vibrancy Theater Co-Executive Producer Clarissa Rai, director Caitlin Lopez, lighting designer Madeleine Hebert, and actor Derek Smith.

Listen to their conversation by clicking “play” in the Soundcloud widget above. 

ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) – After more than a year of preparation, Vibrancy Theater and the School of Theater at Ohio University opens their production of playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury’s We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915 tonight.

The comedy/drama centers on the storytelling journey of a group of artists exploring the history of the 20th century’s first genocide.

A poster for the Vibrancy Theater production of "We Are Proud to Present"
Vibrancy Theater is a student-run production company whose mission is to “create a space for Black and Indigenous students of color where they can begin to develop artistic leadership skills and to create a playground for student-theater artists.”

We Are Proud to Present… intends to spark conversations about  genocide and racism in a theatrical form, therefore contributing to Vibrancy’s mission to give voice to the unheard.

“[…] because history is written by the quote-unquote “victors,” said Caitlin Lopez, the show’s director. “Which are really the perpetrators, the people who assault.”

It strives to spark self-reflections and conversations in the community.

“It’s really challenging the audience to [ask themselves] ‘what biases may I have?’ and ‘how can I address those biases and move forward in a different direction?’” said Vibrancy Theater Co-Executive Producer Clarissa Rai.

Realism in the artistic world

Just as there is a parallel between contemporary social issues and the issues explored in the play, there is also a parallel between the portrayer and the portrayed.

To actor Derek Smith, this space for artistic expression is reality.

“I feel like I walk on stage and I’m not playing a character a lot of the time,” he said. “I feel like I’m just kind of coming in as myself in this world that feels so close to our world.”

Lopez says close examination and interpretation of the play’s script has proven essential.

“[I] read it over and over again for a few months,” Lopez said. “[Then I had to] decide: ‘What is the spine of the play?’ ‘What is it that drives me in a way that I’m connecting to it?’ So once I talk to the designers, then it’s also about talking that to the actors and figuring out a way to make that actionable.”

Ultimately these questions and conversations become something tangible, such as lighting design.

“These ideas of lights and the sound that are really purely theoretical for weeks,” said Smith. “And then you’re getting into the space and then sort of in the part of the process that we’re in now. Everything is coming together and it’s like you’re learning an entirely new play.”

What makes theater live: Audience as part of this reality

Even after more than a year of work, the cast and crew of We Are Proud to Present… says the work will not be complete until there’s an audience there to see it.

“We’re experiencing this in real time together,” Smith said. “Because the show is not really done being put together until the audience is there.”

We Are Proud to Present… opens tonight at 8 p.m. in the Baker Theater on Ohio University’s Athens campus. Additional presentations are scheduled for tomorrow at 8 p.m.; April 17 – 19 at 8 p.m., and April 20 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. All presentations except those happening April 20 will feature talkbacks. 
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