At first it seemed impracticable: to direct, memorize lines, and perform digitally would take away the essence of theater. Despite the obstacles, UC Santa Cruz’s Rainbow Theatre successfully created a new stage for four underrepresented stories over the course of two weekends.
Rainbow Theatre presented its annual spring shows on the weekends of May 21 and May 30, focusing on Latinx, multiracial, Indigenous, and other marginalized identities on campus. Auditions took place during the beginning of spring quarter, with rehearsals running through the end of May and culminating in a limited release of the pre-recorded performances.
Assistant producer of the Cultural Arts and Diversity Resource Center (CAD) August Stevens was excited to see these productions open and hoped audiences would appreciate the directors, cast, and crew’s virtual work from this quarter.
“It is going to be a little bit different in terms of format. Not all of them are going to be just students reading as if they were on stage, or acting it out as much as they can to the stage environment,” Stevens said. “Everyone wants to utilize the technology we have to compile them together to make it look more like a TV show.”
“Odysseus Cruz” (May 21 to 23)
Students Angel Cardenas Montalvo and Rebecca Hall co-directed a modern-day adaptation of “The Odyssey” that takes place at the U.S.-Mexico border. In this retelling of the Greek classic, the cast explored the sacrifices immigrants have to make and the dangers they face when crossing the border.
The main character, Odysseus Cruz, helps immigrants cross the border. While doing so, Cruz encounters the ghosts of those who did not survive the journey.
“Part of why we chose ‘Odysseus Cruz’ was because we wanted to draw attention to the border and give a little bit of context to what goes on there,” Hall said. “Even though this is a mythological story because it’s based on the Odyssey, it makes space for Latinx stories from the border instead of just a Eurocentric narrative.”
“Facing Our Truth” (May 21 to 23)
Directed by UCSC and African American Theater Arts Troupe alum Antonio Glass, “Facing Our Truth” is a trilogy of 10-minute plays that focus on the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s death and police brutality in America. The goal of “Facing Our Truth” is to spark conversations about systemic issues of racism, police brutality, and white supremacy.
The trilogy consists of “Night Vision” by Dominique Morisseau, “Some Other Kid” by A Rey. Pamatmat, and “The Ballad of George Zimmerman” by Dan O’Brien, which features music by Quetzal Flores.
“The longer we worked on the play, the more it came to mean something to me,” said second-year Eréndira Blanco, who plays Elissa in “Some Other Kid.” “I see the play as representative of what a lot of youth of color experience in the United States, which is the abrupt and violent removal of what little or big hope we have for the world and ourselves ripped away from us at the hands of the government and its forces of repression, in this case, the racist police system.”
First-year June Sonnenberg, who plays Ayanna in “Night Vision,” initially found it difficult to connect with her character because of her character’s prejudice and different morals, but ultimately powered through after looking to her castmates for guidance.
“If you’re playing something that feels so detached from you, you’re afraid that you’re not doing it right. I saw myself falling into that a lot, but luckily my cast really supported me and I was able to stay on track,” Sonnenberg said. “We were all very in tune with each other and noticed what others were struggling with.
In “Night Vision,” characters Ayanna and Ezra watch a lady being beaten on the street by a guy wearing a hooded sweatshirt. They return to their residence after resolving the problem to contact the police. However, when they realize how their reports of the assailant differ, they both begin to doubt the veracity of what they witnessed.
“Some Other Kid” focuses on suburban living, with three young individuals weighing both the possible freeing benefits and the potentially lethal consequences of being simply some other kid.
“The Ballad of George Zimmerman” is a folk opera that recreates the 10 minutes leading up to Trayvon Martin’s death.
“Poet’s Corner” (May 28 to 30)
B’enet Benton and Yazlin Juarez co-directed the Poet’s Corner performance of “Possibilities Beyond Ash,” highlighting the past year’s amassed experiences of pain and progress. Despite being called Poet’s Corner, the show is an amalgamation of many forms of art, stretching from poetry to dance. The theme of the performance this year was change and hope.
This was Juarez’s first time directing with Poet’s Corner, and she found that the cast and their togetherness overpowered the obstacles, such as directing and performing during a pandemic.
“The ever-present stress of the pandemic and political turmoil throughout the year had put a toll on the minds and bodies of the poets, and we sometimes found it hard to connect over Zoom,” Juarez said in an email. “However, writing and directing the show was also cathartic and healing, as I got to listen to the experiences of poets like me, and help them polish their pieces into wonderful art.”
The show ended with the words “hope is radical, hope is revolution” to emphasize the message of strength and change. Juarez believes that it represents the notion that social change begins with hope.
This was also fourth-year Tamar Weir’s first time showcasing her poetry. In doing so, she viewed this show as an opening of not just hers but also the other writer’s interpersonal aspects of their lives.
“I felt scared reciting my poems. I felt new and overall excited to share in a space that was so special and supportive, everyone encouraging one another to share more and to write more, and to express more,” Weir said in an email. “Reciting lines from home felt weird because at times I felt more disconnected since I did not meet the other poets in person, but it was special to see people in their intimate home spaces too.”
“The Frybread Queen” (May 28 to 30)
Former American Indian Resource Center (AIRC) director Carolyn Dunn’s “The Frybread Queen” was virtually staged this year by the Cultural Arts and Diversity Resource Center (CAD), in collaboration with the AIRC and the Student Alliance of Native American/Indigenous Peoples (SANAI).
The story follows a Native family in Arizona’s Navajo reservation struggling with the death of a family member whose ghost has returned from the grave to torment them.
“This play means so much to me because of the relevance that it has in any time period, and the representation of these stories that it brings out,” said Sara Rose, who plays Annalee, the widowed wife of the dead family member. “It is so giving of itself and bringing it to life was a gift and a blessing.”
With the hopes of serving as a platform for Indigenous voices as well as a launching pad for Native visibility in the long term, this production featured a mostly Native cast, director, and playwright.
“This is an opportunity to learn about [history] in a way that audiences can relate to. And that’s the wonder about theater,” director Amanda Collins said. “It gives you people and stories to connect with and really attach this history to.”
For more information about upcoming CAD events and productions, click here. To listen to the 2020 Rainbow Theatre podcast, click here. Join the Rainbow Theatre Cultural Studies course (Oakes 80H) this Fall Quarter 2021 to learn about multicultural theater arts and performance.
CHP is publishing this story during the week of September 5 as part of a backlog on unpublished content from spring 2021. The article was originally written on June 2.