Behind the Door of Stevenson 199

1610

The Cultural Arts and Diversity Resource Center (CADRC), founded in 2004, is a tiny office right around the corner from the Stevenson Coffee House, and although it may look small, it has a giant reputation.

If you peek into this office at the right time, you might catch a glimpse of a well-dressed, bespectacled man sitting at a desk, surrounded by students, planning a massive event for the UC Santa Cruz community. Don Williams, the director of the CADRC, is the man in the driver’s seat of this multi-faceted production company that is rising in popularity.

Mr. Williams started working at UCSC through the theater department in 1987 where he worked a production management position. Throughout this time, Mr. Williams had already begun to make an impression on his students.

“A whole host of students actually came up to me,” said Williams. “They wanted to make sure that they would have the opportunity to act. Me being a man of color, they thought I would be a potential key to make this happen.”

In 1992, Williams met with a diverse group of four or five juniors and seniors to plan their own performance — separate from the theater arts department’s performances. They produced a play entitled “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men,” a classic performance featuring African-American themes and characters that takes place in the late 1960s.

Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, AATAT's first play in 1992, garnered a standing ovation from a full house at its first showing. Illustration by Maren Slobody.
Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, AATAT’s first play in 1992, garnered a standing ovation from a full house at its first showing. Illustration by Maren Slobody.

The reception of the play was overwhelming for Williams.

“It was standing room only,” Williams said, smiling at the fond memory of that first show. “And we got a standing ovation.”

Williams did not know it at the time, but “Ceremonies” was the first play to be produced by the African-American Theater Arts Troupe (AATAT). Starting with only 25 members, AATAT was entirely student run.

“AATAT students did the main work,” Williams noted, adding that students directed and managed stage almost entirely on their own.

AATAT proved to be a resource for students of all backgrounds to learn about their cultures. “We wanted to create retention,” said Williams. “It gave them a chance to have voice, and come together as a family.”

To Williams, AATAT had already begun to make a difference in the UCSC community, especially to students of color.

“It’s customary that many students would come to this campus and see themselves maybe once or twice a week,” Williams said. “You don’t see a reflection of yourself in class, or even in your dorms. It created a huge network for people of color.”

Recent UCSC graduate and former CAD staff member Marlene Martinez also saw these opportunities as an important vehicle for retention. Martinez says that CAD is the only reason she chose to stay in Santa Cruz.

“I’ve heard so many times from various students of color that they would have left UCSC within their first two years if it wouldn’t have been for Rainbow Theater or AATAT or getting involved with CAD in general,” said Martinez. “To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have stayed at UCSC if it weren’t for [CAD] especially since I was a student of color … I felt out of place from day one and it wasn’t until I became involved with Rainbow Theater that I began to enjoy and love my college experience.”

Sayo Fujioka is director of the three-headed organizational monster of UCSC, SOMeCA, which is comprised of the Student Organization Advising and Resources (SOAR), Student Media and CAD. If you ask Williams, he will describe Fujioka as “the boss.”

“UCSC is quite fortunate to have CAD. It is a treasure,” said Fujioka. “Don Williams has nurtured its growth for over 20 years and created a dynamic and diverse space where UCSC students can find their voices. As such, CAD offers students a launching pad for academic and personal success.”

Dr. Marla Wyche-Hall, the former director of the African-American Resource and Cultural Center (AARCC), is a staunch supporter of Cultural Arts and Diversity for this very reason.

“I believe the CADRC is very beneficial to students of color on this campus due to the nature of the plays and events that are brought to campus,” said Wyche-Hall, who knows the importance of CAD to UCSC’s minority students first-hand. “It offers students a platform and a rich experience to explore diversity in many different ways, which adds a comprehensive, holistic experience here at UCSC.”

Although the students involved with AATAT were being awarded no academic credits for their work in the production company at the time, they were itching to start working on the next show. Thus, the “The Amen Corner” opened in the winter of 1993.  The play was another huge success for the production troupe and Williams. Slowly but surely, AATAT made a name for itself.

“We started to become more known,” explained Williams. “We had a surge of students that were coming in that chose UC Santa Cruz because they had the opportunity to express themselves and be embraced. Good news travels fast.”

In fact, the good news of AATAT’s success had spread to students from other cultural groups across campus, who approached Williams about creating another production troupe.

“We started to grow with more and more demand of people wanting to come and tell their stories of various cultural groups,” Williams said. “We had a variety of students who came up to me after seeing … the shows, [they] came up to me and said, ‘We want to do that too.’”

Out of this desire, the Rainbow Theater Production Company was born.

Rainbow Theater performed Velina Hasu Houston's Asa Ga Kimashita (Morning Has Broken) in 2009, a play exploring an interracial romance as experienced by a Japanese woman. Illustration by Maren Slobody.
Rainbow Theater performed Velina Hasu Houston’s Asa Ga Kimashita (Morning Has Broken) in 2009, a play exploring an interracial romance as experienced by a Japanese woman. Illustration by Maren Slobody.

In May of 1994, Rainbow Theater produced three different one act plays representative of the African-American, Asian-American, and Chicano(a)/Latino(a) cultures for the following fall. But Rainbow did not stop there. This was only the beginning of the company.

“After four or five years of us doing it and with the growth of students who wanted to be involved in it,” Williams said, “we ended up growing our productions within a given season.”

The first of these major growths for Rainbow was the addition of the now famous Poet’s Corner, a collective of poetry and spoken word that was written, performed and produced by students. Shortly after Poet’s Corner joined the Rainbow Theater troupe, Rainbow made way for another major growth in the company.

“We decided that we needed to grow even more, so we came up with the Fifth Element, which in the beginning was called the Fifth Wheel,” explained Williams. “It’s a multicultural production that is a full two act play as opposed to the regular [one act] productions of Rainbow.”

Rainbow Theater added the most recent addition to their franchise in 2012, a dance troupe called the Rainbotz which according to Williams has been “setting the stages on fire” in popularity and reception from the community. Rainbow Theater’s vice president for the 2013-2014 school year, Devinne Vaughn, is eager to be involved with Rainbow’s new effort.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the other side of CAD from my new position and not just as a dancer,” said Vaughn, who is a veteran of the Rainbotz dance troupe. “I’m excited to see what work there is to be done and the team of leaders I’ll be working with.”

For Rainbow Theater’s first decade, students from AATAT primarily managed the productions. Much like AATAT, Rainbow Theater gained popularity rapidly and grew from a group of 25 students to over 100 within the first few years. While Rainbow students received no academic credit for their work, Williams was very pleased with the success of the program and the impact it had on the student body.

However, in June 2004, Williams was thrown a major curveball that would have a permanent effect on him and the entire UCSC community.

“Theater arts was going to eliminate my position,” Williams said, “due to financial reasons.”

A family man with four children and a wife, Nancy, Don could not afford to stay at UC Santa Cruz without his job at the theater arts department. Because of this, Rainbow Theater and AATAT were facing imminent closure.

Consequently, a massive group of nearly 2000 students rallied together to sign petitions and march to save the two theater troupes.

A group of nearly 2000 students rallied together to sign petitions and march to save the Rainbow Theater and African American Theater Arts Troupe as the organizations faced elimination due to budget cuts in June 2004. Illustration by Maren Slobody.
A group of nearly 2000 students rallied together to sign petitions and march to save the Rainbow Theater and African American Theater Arts Troupe as the organizations faced elimination due to budget cuts in June 2004. Illustration by Maren Slobody.

“They demonstrated the need and desire to maintain these theater troupes and the integrity of what we do,” said Williams. “They made their voices heard in a profound way.”

As a result, the Cultural Arts and Diversity Resource Center was founded in 2004 to manage and fund these two production troupes. Williams was chosen to be head of this resource center, which has been actively producing plays for over two decades now.

Today, the CADRC has a small group of qualified student staffers in the office, continuing William’s mission of serving the underrepresented members of the UCSC community through the arts.

Currently, the CADRC is preparing to celebrate Rainbow Theater’s 20th anniversary this fall. Many students and CAD supporters are anticipating Rainbow Theater’s adaptation of “DREAMers,” a play tackling the controversial topic of immigration.

Adam Odsess-Rubin, a fourth year, is the playwright of “DREAMers.” Fresh from an internship in Brooklyn through UCSC’s community studies department, Odsess-Rubin developed an interest in investigative theater, which is largely based upon interviews and journalistic content. “DREAMers” will feature interviews from undocumented persons that Odsess-Rubin interviewed personally while living in New York. Many of these interviewees were affected by the Dream Act, a bill that offered residency to undocumented immigrants who met certain specific criteria.

“I had just come out of a relationship with someone who was undocumented,” explained Odsess-Rubin, “and I really wanted to understand more about what it was like to be undocumented. We’re not adding anything, we’re not changing anything. It’s 100 percent their words.”

“DREAMers” premiered in New York, to a largely receptive audience. Returning to UCSC with more experience, Odsess-Rubin was ready to show his classmates what he learned during his time in New York. Odsess-Rubin produced DREAMers twice more, utilizing an ensemble comprised primarily of members of Rainbow Theater and AATAT. Odsess-Rubin noted that the actors were strongly affected by the reality of the subject.

“The actors just started crying, before we even got to page 20,” Odsess-Rubin recalls. “Everybody in the group had some connection to the issue.”

“DREAMers” was performed at UCSC through Barnstorm last February with the theater arts department to a sold out crowd. As a result of the popularity of the show, an encore performance occurred in Oakes that was sponsored by the community studies department. At the time, Odsess-Rubin was also teaching a class through the community studies department, with Williams as his advisor. It wasn’t long before a script of “DREAMers” made it into Don Williams’s hands.

“‘[DREAMers]’ is also part of an effort to bring Rainbow Theater and theater arts together,” Odsess-Rubin said. “I want to start bridging that gap.”

Odsess-Rubin isn’t the only one who sees a slight disconnect between CAD and the theater arts department.

Williams notes that most of the funding for the productions and office supplies is sponsored by Measure 49, a compulsory fee of $5.25 per quarter to support the CADRC, the Committee on Ethnic Programming and outside donors. He describes financial support from the theater arts division as “minimal.”

David Yager, the dean of the arts division at UCSC, also acknowledges a divide between UCSC’s two major theater companies.

“I think there is a little disconnect that sometimes takes place between someone who supports what someone is doing and someone who has the money necessary to support what someone is doing,” Yager said. “My first obligation is to make sure that my majors have their classes so they can graduate … I can’t even describe how many classes, but in some of the departments … we have cut over 30 classes.”

Despite these financial pressures, Yager and Williams signed a three-year commitment of financial support for the African-American Theater Arts Troupe on June 20th.

In 2010, Rainbow Theater and AATAT produced These People Can Fly, an African American play “describing the journey through the legacy of slavery and the journey to freedom.” Illustration by Maren Slobody.
In 2010, Rainbow Theater and AATAT produced These People Can Fly, an African American play “describing the journey through the legacy of slavery and the journey to freedom.” Illustration by Maren Slobody.

“This is definitely good news,” Yager said.

Williams and the entire CAD family would like to urge all incoming freshman to consider auditioning for Rainbow Theater’s fall auditions, or attending a show sponsored by the company as a way of getting involved.

“If you want to really learn about who you are,” said Williams, “or if you have a desire to be a real leader, I would say do it early by getting involved with Rainbow Theater or the African-American Theater Arts Troupe group.”

Like many members of the CAD team, recent UCSC graduate and former CAD staff member Marlene Martinez is looking forward to Rainbow Theater’s 20th anniversary.

“Since I am no longer a UCSC student, I am definitely looking forward to Rainbow Theater’s 20th Year Anniversary in order to meet new alumni, reunite with some of the greatest individuals I’ve met at UCSC, watch the 20th season productions, and simply have a great time,” Martinez said.

With scripts chosen and production beginning for Rainbow Theater’s 20th season, the newly elected CAD leadership team is gearing up for a memorable year. For Rainbow Theater’s vice president for the 2013-2014 school year, Devinne Vaughn, it is a chance to give back to a company who has supported her for years.

“In the time that I have spent with the different aspects of CAD,” Vaughn said, “I’ve heard many stories from others in CAD, of struggle and hardship and being a student of color going to UCSC. And when I’ve asked how they’ve managed to keep going on, I hear the same reply every time. They were able to make it through their trials and tribulations because they had a community to support them through it.