“Back to You, America”

Students perform unique works at “Poet’s Corner: Untold Stories”

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The production began with masked cast members performing narrative expositions. Each piece addressed the use of force by police and the anger and exhaustion felt by those affected. Photo by Yin Wu
The production began with masked cast members performing narrative expositions. Each piece addressed the use of force by police and the anger and exhaustion felt by those affected. Photo by Yin Wu

Following the theme “Untold Stories,” a cast of ten students from “Poet’s Corner,” a facet of Rainbow Theater, addressed issues of identity and society through performance art. Students spoke out to hold institutions accountable for excluding underrepresented groups in America, presenting personal works with loud voices to fight for justice in these communities.

Around 80 students and community members packed into the Stevenson Event Center on Nov. 5 for the last of the three productions. Two hours of spoken word, song and short skits were woven together into a “poetry show” that challenged problems on both an institutional and personal level, honoring the self-telling of identity.

“There’s so many opportunities for our voices to be even louder than they are now,” said audience member and African American Theater Arts Troupe (AATAT) president Maimouna Camara.

It was the 23rd anniversary of Rainbow Theater, the only multicultural theater arts troupe in the entire UC system, and 25th anniversary of AATAT — many of whom are members of Rainbow.

The two directors of the show played the roles of news anchors and facilitated the production in a newscast-style spinoff meant to satirize the narrow presentation of American media that often overlooks perspectives, speaking to the audience with lines like “This just in: Open your eyes.” Between scenes, the lights went out and the sound of TV static filled the room. In one scene, flashing red and blue lights and wailing sirens simulated a police car.

Each performer took turns presenting spoken word, addressing the use of force by police, naming fallen victims of police brutality like Freddie Gray and Trayvon Martin.

“How can I trust federally sanctioned corruption? Federally sanctioned colorism? Federally sanctioned racism?” one performer asked the audience.

Songs included original rap and a capella written by the cast members and a rendition of the classic Bill Withers song “Ain’t No Sunshine” to honor the lives lost to police brutality.

The performers tied bandanas around their mouths and moved them down when it was their turn to speak. They urged people to take action rather than sit back on the sidelines while these issues continue to take place.

“I’m here right now looking at you. What are you going to do?” said another performer. “The truth is you already know the truth. You already know all this — you probably know more. Isn’t this compelling enough to speak out? Or are you content in my discontent?”

The unique compilation of art forms expressed feeling angry and tired of the same recurring problems. Audience members responded with periodic gasps, snaps and applause.

The production took five weeks to create and rehearse, filled with various theater and writing workshops. Directors Thais Hogarth and Michael Rangel wrote the script, while the other cast members wrote their own creative works.

“This is just sort of a way to say, ‘Hey, we’re here. Listen to us.’ We’re just trying to get our own stories out onto the campus,” Hogarth said. “It’s not just something we read off and spit out. It’s something that takes a lot from us to perform.”

Through spoken word, performer Serene Tseng explored gendered oppression and queerphobia, with repetition of the lines “Because I am not a man” and “Because I am a woman” throughout spoken word.

“Because I am a woman, I will not let this happen to another woman,” Tseng said, referring to everyday prejudices that women face like street harassment. “I transcend this world of mortal depths founded by this concept of gender roles.”

Performer Alex Perez explained the unique nature of Rainbow Theater to encourage people to “yell and make noise” in response to issues they’re passionate about, especially in the context of the election year and rhetoric of the news. Perez emphasized his frustrations regarding the portrayal of the Latinx community in media.

“For a lot of people, when you imagine somebody from a community outside of yours, there’s a face that you imagine,” Perez said. “So when you put yourself on stage, you’re not only defying that image but humanizing that community as well.”

Perez valued uniting differing topics into one shared community –– ones who are underrepresented on this campus as well.

“May my words one day travel further than my body,” Production Director Michael Rangel said.