By Taneen Momeni
Orange, white, red and blue lights illuminated the small thrust stage in UMD’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. Projections of Ferguson, Missouri, the Palestinian territories and Paris lit up the back wall. German, French and English revolutionary songs and chants echoed throughout the hall.
“Breath, Boom” and “Revolt,” two plays written and directed by students at UMD, sold out all three of their shows in the performing arts center’s Cafritz Theater on Nov. 22 and Nov. 24.
“Breath, Boom,” written by alumna Kia Corthron and directed by senior Jasmine Mitchell, addressed problems black women and families face, such as mass incarceration and redlining. Mitchell presented three scenes with an all black, mostly female, cast that followed the protagonist Prix and other young women in jail, emphasizing the struggles and crises that arise for them.
“I hope to elevate the voices of black women who have bore the scars of this country on our skin. We will overcome, and we will arise,” Mitchell said in the director’s note in the program.
“Revolt,” written and directed by Walker Green, showcased young historical activists who were killed for their activism, from the Civil Rights era in Mississippi, Nazi Germany, the Israel and Palestine conflict and more. Between the monologues, Green paired appropriate historical songs and traditional dances to the monologues.
“This play is dedicated to the young people who fight for what is right,” Green said in the program.
The two plays shed light on the struggles marginalized groups experience and those that have lost their lives fighting for what they believe in.
“I think it was interesting to tell both of these stories that are not being given a platform for very different reasons, but I think they worked really well together because both of them really evoked a lot of emotion from the audience, but not to the point where it was exhausting,” Justine Morris, production assistant of “Revolt” said.
Green, a senior government and politics and theater double major, began writing Revolt last winter, and he was inspired by a yellow vest protest video in Paris in 2018. The video exhibited the yellow vest protestors and a marching band marching and dancing through the streets of France chanting “Du mouvement sociale” (“social movement” in English) and “On veut des fonctionnaires et pas des actionnaires” (“we want public servants not shareholders” in English).
“I thought that protest that I saw online was super catchy and fun, and I thought it’d be cool making it into a theater piece,” Green said. “So it’s like, wouldn’t it be cool if you could bring the protest to a theater and bring the experience to an audience?”
After finding the beginning to his play, Green researched characters and set criteria they all had to fit in order to be written about: they needed to be young, they needed to have been active within the last century and they needed to have died because of their activism.
“I figured it was more powerful. They all died, which, to me, is the most powerful sacrifice you can make as an activist,” he said.
The five activists Green decided on were Sophie Scholl, a member of the student Nazi resistance group the White Rose; Andrew Goodman, who volunteered to work on the Freedom Summer project and registered black people to vote in Mississippi; Fred Hampton, a chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party; Rachel Corrie, an American activist and member of the pro-Palestine group the International Solidarity Movement; and Aaron Swartz, a “hacktivist” who fought against the privatization of knowledge produced at public universities.
Sam Intrater, who played Goodman, explained that a consistency in his character’s monologue that matched the overall message of the show was the need for people to “step from conviction to action.”
“Pretty much everyone has some sort of opinion on what’s going on in the world, but very few people actually go out and do anything about it,” Intrater said. “I hope hearing from the mouths of these heroes about the importance of taking action inspired people to at least think about volunteering for some campaign or fundraising to make a difference on these front.”
Intrater’s parents and grandmother attended the show, and after the performance, Intrater learned his great-grandmother attended the University of Munich at the same time as Sophie Scholl and assisted in distributing anti-Nazi leaflets, and if she had been caught, Intrater’s family would have not existed today.
Intrater said his grandmother has spoken about her fear that the U.S. is slipping into authoritarianism under Donald Trump, which is something Intrater has heard frequently before.
“The sentiment felt a lot more real and scary coming from someone who has such a close connection to the actual Nazi Germany,” he said. “While I felt a connection to Sophie Scholl after talking to my grandmother, everyone in the cast and everyone in the audience is living in a world that was created by the efforts of these young people in their early adulthoods.”
Morris, the production assistant, believed the cast really connected with the material and that a lot of it really connected with the audience.
“There were a couple of audience members who were like, ‘I didn’t know these people, but I’m going to research them.’ And I think that’s really important that the audience walks away with something; they leave the theater and they’re still thinking about it,” Morris said. “It creates a lasting effect on them and their life.”
The writing for the play continued throughout the auditions and rehearsals and was finalized a week before the show. The beginning and end of the play featured the playwright and director as himself writing an email to an auditioner who had a few grievances regarding the play’s lack of discourse and one-sided storytelling.
“This play is for people like her [the auditioner]. She embodies a type of person and is the type of person who needs to see this play,” Green said, explaining his reasoning to include her in the introduction.
Green originally had not planned to be in the play because he wanted the focus to be on the activists’ stories, but he ran into challenges on how to create a story arc to connect the monologue. He decided including the criticism was a way to make it a story.
“I think he did a good job at making the focus the people who are leading the movements,” Lee Brady, an audience member, said. “I think it was effective at breaking the fourth wall without being like, ‘This is all about me.’”
Green said he was concerned people would be upset and protest the play because of how split the campus is on the Israel and Palestine issue. Rachel Corrie’s monologue inspired the auditioner’s email, and the production team was unsure how this part of the play would land because of how contentious it was.
“It’s important to draw the distinction between Jewish people and the state of Israel. I hope that the way we displayed Rachel’s monologue was that people make that distinction. Does Benjamin Netanyahu and his policies as a state of Israel represent all Jewish people?” he said.
However, the School of Theatre, Dance, & Performance Studies, which funded the two plays, did not censor anything. Green thought it was a possibility, but he was appreciative that the school was very open.
“People should feel empowered that they can make a difference. It’s easy to feel apathetic and powerless,” he said. “Because everyone [Chile, Hong Kong, Bolivia] is protesting now, I think people can see the result of protest. It doesn’t feel meaningless anymore.”
The end of the play showed Green replying to the auditioner’s email, telling her it’s easy for people to do nothing, and that he chose to tell these stories to inspire the next generation of activists. He leaves the auditioner and the audience with one question: where will you belong before you’re gone?
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of David Andrews.
Taneen Momeni is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.