A Conversation with Adilah Barnes

UCSC alumna to act in AATAT’s ‘A Raisin in the Sun’

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Award-winning actress, acclaimed author and one of the most in uential UCSC alumni — Adilah Barnes has returned to the stage to play the part of Mama in African American Theater Arts Troupe (AATAT) and Theater Arts production of “A Raisin in the Sun,” premiering on campus March 2-11.

Barnes co-founded the rst Black theater arts troupe, Black Magic, in ‘68, but after she graduated in ‘72 the organization did not continue productions, creating a 20-year gap before AATAT was founded in 1991.

Upon completing her B.A. in Black theater Barnes pursued theater, teaching, network Television and Hollywood lms over the last 50 years.

Barnes sat down with City on a Hill Press to talk about her artistic journey and why she returned to UCSC for the role.

CHP:
How did your experience at UC Santa Cruz shape your career aspirations and mastery of your craft?

ADILAH BARNES:

When I came here, I came with the ambition of being an English major. But once here […] and doing shows here, co-founding Black Magic, the first African American Theater Company here, I began to realize that doing theater and majoring in theater was really what I wanted to do. So, by being here, majoring in theater, and once I left here and went to the Bay Area, [that’s] where I really cut my teeth on professional theater. That is where I continue to grow as an actor and now it has been 51 years that I have been acting since I started at 16.

photo by Alonso Hernandez

CHP:
What advice do you have for aspiring actors, theater students and/or writers?

A.B.:

In terms of advice for actors I would say, train, train, train. Learn as much as you can. By so doing, you will be grooming yourself in terms of the craft, learn everything that you can while you are here. In all of your classes, the productions you are in, the shows that you go to see, there is much that can be learned through observation. So soak in as many opportunities as possible, to grow as an actor. In terms of a writer, write what you know and if you begin writing passionately about that which you know and that which interests you — even if you don’t know it I suppose that you could research it — but even in that case you are writing about what you know.

CHP:
Since you began your career in the 70’s, how has the acting industry changed for you personally as a whole? I read that you started your acting career with American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in San Francisco. And how was that experience?

A.B.:

Yes, I was an instructor there and in fact I was the first African American to teach full time in the advance training program in the history of the company. […] It was many things, being the first is always challenging and you know I was the only female also in the advanced training program teaching. So not only was I the first African American, I was also the only women teaching in the advanced training program. So it was at times very challenging, but it made me a better teacher. Things I think have changed in terms of television and film, we are seeing a lot more women, who are older women in roles. We are seeing more women in executive positions, writing more, it’s still not an equal playing field but it is better.
Life experiences always allow us to grow as a whole, and that’s one of the reasons I like Mama in “A Raisin in the Sun.” She is wise, she has lived a number of years, she really is someone who is able to see life the way it is, in a very simple yet poignant and yet profound way.