Personal narratives express experiences with police brutality, Asian American stereotypes and environmental racism. Two people from different cultures come face to face at the border of the U.S. and Mexico.
Rainbow Theater at UC Santa Cruz explored these narratives in its fall performances on Nov. 3-4. This quarter included productions of “R.A.W. (Cause I’m a Woman),” “Hands Up,” “Esperanza” and “Poets’ Corner.” All performances took place at the Stevenson Event Center to crowds of about 150 people.
Rainbow Theater is a quarterly production that provides space for students of color to express themselves on stage and bring forward diverse voices.
This quarter’s four plays address social, cultural and spiritual issues affecting communities of color, in line with Rainbow Theater’s mission. The common thread through the productions is the use of theater to break out of racial stereotypes.
Part of UCSC’s Cultural Arts and Diversity (CAD) Resource Center, Rainbow Theater requires its members to enroll in a five-unit course and attend two-hour rehearsals two to three times a week.
Thais Hogarth, fourth-year student and co-president of CAD, defined Rainbow Theater as a “multicultural theater arts troupe, by students of color for students of color.” Set design, lighting, sound, directing and acting are all orchestrated by a group of 45-60 students.
R.A.W.(‘CAUSE I’M A WOMAN)
Four women walk on stage, each delivering a personal monologue about how her life is affected by the stereotypes that Asian American women face in the U.S.
Their stories represent experiences from Indian, half Japanese and half Russian, Pilipinx and Singaporean women in the U.S. in this year’s production, “R.A.W. (’Cause I’m a Woman).” R.A.W stands for raunchy Asian women.
All four women performed a vignette together, then took turns performing individual monologues written by the student actors.
Kristal Chan, fourth-year student and “R.A.W.” actor, describes her character as stuck between two selves – one Asian and one American. Her character feels like she must dismiss her Korean heritage to be accepted as American. Though fictionalized, the character’s story contains elements of Chan’s own experiences as a Singaporean American.
“R.A.W.” holds American society accountable for placing double standards on Asian American women, said Cipi Espaldon, fifth-year student and director of the play. The actors explore the relationship between culture and sexuality in a society that ignores the presence of queer Asian women, forcing them to choose one part of their identity over another.
“[There is a] need to be both virginal and sexy at the same time,” Espaldon said.
The actors stand in line facing the audience, without props or sets. Only lighting emphasizes each woman as she steps forward to speak out against the stereotypes she experiences.
“Asian Americans could be the model minority […but] being the model minority is not a good thing because you are expected to be the ‘model,’ when we’re also not,” Espaldon said. “It’s just so toxic. That’s basically our threat.”
“Hands Up,” inspired by police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri and countless other U.S. cities, brought stories of racial discrimination and white privilege together onstage.
Fourth-year Amir Williams tells the story of a Black man with holes in his identity. His upbringing by upper-middle-class white parents makes it difficult for him to relate to other Black men. Despite his skin color, he feels like a fraud.
Next, the show sheds light on the complexities Black women face through first-year Ananda Brooks’ character, a woman who is abused by her white boyfriend and calls the police. When the police arrive, they take the boyfriend’s word as truth and disregard her voice. She is arrested for trying to tell her story and is sexually harassed by police officers.
“[It’s] white oppression from every direction,” Brooks said.
“Hands Up” gives voice to the varied experiences of Black people in America and serves as a call to action.
“These shows are about holding people accountable, calling them out. You can’t tell us something is over when we’re still experiencing it. And the point of this show is to remind people that we are still experiencing it and we’re asking you to listen and to at least open your eyes to it,” said fourth-year student and co-director of “Hands Up” Thais Hogarth.
The performance finished with the cast and audience keeping their hands up together in a moment of vulnerability and solidarity.
“We will not go quietly,” Hogarth said. “You will listen to us or you won’t listen to us, but you will not speak for us.”
Sibling banter, splits in friendship and impassioned breakaways all occur around the Mexico and U.S. border in Rainbow Theater’s production of “Esperanza.” This play digests the political and personal effects of colonialism and power that “the wall” between Mexico and the U.S. holds.
Fernanda Coppel, UCSC alumna, wrote the stories of Esperanza, a young woman wanting to leave Mexico for the U.S. and Alex, a young man who follows in his father’s footsteps as a border patrol officer.
Alex stops Esperanza, who is awaiting entrance into the U.S. and the story backtracks through their respective lives. Fourth-year and co-director Ali-Moosa Mirza said this story resonates with the present moment under a presidential administration that disregards immigrant rights and welfare.
“Anyone who’s lived here [is] aware of the issues going on in the country,” Mirza said. “So in a political sense, [students] can understand and provide solidarity.”
The play touches on the cyclical nature of racism and presents it as a taught behavior. Alex appears to question some of his family’s viewpoints on race, but his lack of education enables him to turn a blind eye to their moral corruption.
Esperanza, on the other hand, constantly challenges family traditions and dynamics. She wears tight overalls and hoop earrings instead of a skirt and blouse at dinner and spits into her brother’s plate of food when he receives preferential dinner privileges.
“Esperanza” explores how human relationships are tainted by the U.S. government’s desire to dominate Mexico and maintain control of immigration.
“There’s a universality to the story,” Mirza said. “I don’t have family background in Mexico, but the story speaks to me in the matter of family drama and the direct issues of coming into the country — of the American dream.”
Six poets take the stage in “Poets’ Corner” to address white supremacy and the deep wounds it leaves behind. The poets’ voice their narratives on institutional and internalized violence and how they intersect with environmental destruction.
The show falls into “devised theater,” meaning poets work hand in hand with directors and technicians to build the set. UCSC students and co-directors Kathryn Douglas and Fortino Vasquez-Hernandez Jr. chose poets to perform their original works about the intersectional nature of environmental racism.
“Global warming is a result of white supremacy,” Douglas said. “White supremacy reinforces capitalism and capitalism reinforces consumption and consumption makes garbage.”
A dim candle glows as the poets begin the six-set piece, calling out the need to understand cultural genocide. Douglas said understanding accurate history is the only way to have a future with less misery.
Teal light ripples along the poets’ faces as they shared how exhausting it can be to live in a society that requests the declaration of one’s sexuality. Each poet speaks to the audience about personal aspects of their sexual orientation, race and mental health. Throughout the sets, poets’ movements are intentionally still with exaggerated hand movements, reflecting societal barriers.
Their words about police brutality jolt their stoic bodies to life, as they stand among tombstones. Lighting and sound shift each piece into a different natural element that corresponds with the mood of each set of poems.
“Poets’ Corner” pulls the past into the present through the energetic and emotional chaos of purging internalized oppression and, ultimately, finding self-love.
“It is fine to believe in yourself,” Douglas said. “Showing up for yourself does do something.”