“[There are] a lot of layers to theater,” said Cultural Arts and Diversity director Don Williams. “It’s like an onion. The more you coat, layer by layer, the more details you flesh out and the more believability you have in the show.”
Williams founded Rainbow Theater in 1993 to unite cultures through art. Now in its 21st year, he sees the organization taking another step forward regarding professionalism, giving way for the complexity of those details and layers to be on full display. He attributes this change to increased communication and a leadership team of 30 students that allows creativity and work ethic to prosper.
“I keep teaching them that if it comes from the heart, it will go to the heart,” Williams said.
Rainbow is the oldest theater arts troupe in the UC system. While Rainbow Theater is a yearlong endeavor, with members organizing several productions throughout the year and enrolling in a five-unit course, its highlight is the three-week season taking place every fall quarter.
This year, Rainbow opened its season to a packed Stevenson Event Center on Nov. 13, and again the following night. Program A, the Chicana/o, Latina/o “Radio Mambo: Culture Clash Invades Miami” and Poet’s Corner, had audience members on their feet, Williams said.
“They’re telling their stories,” Williams said of Poet’s Corner. “Poet’s [Corner] is an amazing show because [the performers] are giving their souls. The crowd just vibed with them. Any scene they went on and they spat, they just had this incredible surge of applause. It shook your spirit.”
The season continued on Nov. 15 with the second night of Program B, a double-header including the African-American play “Intimate Apparel” and the Asian/Pacific Islander production “Goodbye, My Feleni.” In true Rainbow Theater fashion, the productions presented the voices of marginalized communities in the creation of narratives that explore issues of identity and social inequality, all while throwing in a bit of humor for good measure.
“Goodbye, My Feleni” is a World War II tale of three Pacific Islander soldiers stationed in New Zealand struggling to make meaning of their role in a violent war. These young men must rely on each other as they cope with the imminent threat of loss and a longing for their homeland. It is an examination of the way brotherhood becomes created, filled with somber and tender moments and punctuated by comedic exchanges between the characters to ease the tension.
Hector Contreras-Ramazzini, a second-year who played the role of Tama Apala in the production, was initially reluctant to join Rainbow, but soon found common ground with his character despite coming from a different ethnic background.
“I related to similarities in struggles Pacific Islanders have faced with the struggles of Latin Americans and Latinos in the U.S.,” Contreras-Ramazzini said of the way minorities were treated in the military. “It was a refreshing thought to know that we share similar struggles and similar issues.”
The night’s second production, “Intimate Apparel,” tells the story of Esther, a lingerie seamstress living in New York City in the early 1900s. Esther, a 35-year-old woman, longs to be married and her wish appears granted when she falls in love with a young Panamanian man. What ensues is a subtle examination of female sexuality and oppression, underscored by relatable feelings of heartbreak and betrayal.
Jessica Marlborough, one of the three co-directors for “Intimate Apparel,” transferred to UC Santa Cruz last year and joined Rainbow Theater soon after. She was quickly struck by the sense of unity within the organization. Rainbow’s members readily welcomed her into the environment they’ve carved out for themselves — a place that values friendship and self-care.
“I know it sounds very cliche and too good to be true but once you’re in the space, you are in the space.” Marlborough said. “They’re not going to ostracize you.”
Cultural Arts and Diversity director Williams echoes this sentiment of community.
“All walks, all cultures come together on one accord,” Williams said. “They see their similarities and not the differences. I see that happening more so this year than before.”