Ever wondered how an extraterrestrial being would look at racial tensions in the United States?
An upcoming production, Collidescope: Adventures in Pre- and Post-Racial America, presents tense moments in American history through staged scenes of events dating as far back as 1775 to the recent killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
Co-director Ping Chong said he wanted the performance to make the audience examine an honest account of racial history in America.
Although the shooting of Trayvon Martin triggered Chong’s analysis of race relations in a theatrical context, he said he realized this issue is bigger than one shooting.
“At the heart of it, it’s using these historical stories to give context to the things we are addressing today,” Collidescope co-director Talvin Wilks said.
The School of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies brought in Chong and Wilks to create a show, and their vision resulted in Collidescope.
Collidescope is set in the laboratory of an alien spaceship. The physical setting does not change throughout the performance, but the space is enhanced by projections and lighting to set each scenario through an alien perspective.
The directors say they believe the show portrays situations in an objective light by presenting the stories from the perspective of a complete outsider – an alien.
The set, designed by third-year scenic design master’s student Lydia Francis, is primarily made from plexiglass.
Lighting designer Max Doolittle, a second-year master’s student in lighting design, said he found this set challenging but exciting to design. Since the set is primarily made out of the transparent plastic, it was difficult to highlight actors using light, he said.
Doolittle was able to use backlighting to utilize the plexiglass, resulting in a glowing set that helped accentuate the creepy, extraterrestrial ambiance of the room.
“It feels like there’s life behind the set,” he said.
Chong created some original scenes for Collidescope, but many of them consist of documented material from the past.
“We need to get to the root of the [current race relations] problem, and that root has been in our history for hundreds of years,” said Weilong Li, a junior majoring in theatre and cellular biology and molecular genetics.
The performance includes a pre-revolutionary scene of slaves petitioning for their freedom and an episode from the McCarthy era when the government interrogated African-American singer and actor Paul Robeson under suspicion of being a communist.
“Almost all of the words I speak are [those Robeson] actually spoke during his interrogation,” said University of Maryland TDPS alumnus Vaughn Midder, who plays the part of Robeson.
Actors play several different characters in different scenes throughout the performance, ignoring racial or gender lines. For instance, in another scene, Midder plays an elderly widow during the Civil War era.
He said this play taught him racism has been embedded in America’s economics, politics and legality for centuries, which he said he finds disheartening.
Wilks explained the issues the characters are portraying on stage are issues Americans are currently facing.
The cast has been working on the production since last semester. Midder said some of scenes actors staged during callbacks are incorporated into the show – something he said he finds amazing because ideas created during callbacks often change when staging the show.
Although there is no target audience, Chong hopes a younger college demographic will gain a better understanding of their history through Collidescope and change for future generations.
The directors explained that type of performance is geared to raise awareness and start discussions. Wilks said these scenes are not how textbooks or lectures depict history.
“We’ve set up these [historical] scenarios but really they’re talking to us today,” Wilks said.
Performances begin Friday, Nov. 7, and end Nov. 14. Student tickets are $10.
Victoria Tanner is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at email@example.com.