By Kim Lyle
Issues surrounding race are so often made invisible, either by choice or lack of awareness. Removing this cloak of invisibility and engaging people in open, honest discussions on such complicated topics can be difficult and uncomfortable. Yet, there are those finding a way to move people outside of their comfort zone.
The collaborative theatrical performance, RACY, is actively working to give these issues a voice—or rather, a movement—in many definitions of the word.
Through use of physical movement, poetry, crowd participation, narrative, and, at times, humor, the cast has been able to use the performance as a vehicle for initiating important conversations. In doing so, each of the aforementioned tools becomes the metaphorical sugar that helps the medicine go down.
Last week, the group performed several times for a fully packed Hopkins Black Box Theatre. After the show, they held an open dialogue where the audience was invited to share personal stories, feelings, interpretations, as well as raise questions about the issues amongst an interracial collection of people.
Bonny McDonald, the director of RACY, recognizes the intricacies of the show’s context in present times as well as its location in southern Louisiana.
“My thinking on this is so varied and vast, it pains me to condense it to a few sentences…but, because our city is segregated along racial lines in ways that are so entrenched historically, most white people either don’t see that segregation or are passively or actively working to maintain it,” McDonald said. “That same segregation amounts to inequity along racial lines in terms of access to educational resources, health care, quality food, fair housing, and jobs.”
“Body-masks,” a set of reoccurring physical positions, were incorporated throughout the different acts. Taking form in nine statue-like movements, these masks made such human internal conditions as guilt and resistance external.
“Movement was key for us in this piece because it is at once universally interesting and relatively abstract,” said McDonald. “The movement work, or ‘body-masks’ we create, which refer to various black and white social codes (as we see them) are very specific physically. Yet because they do not always speak in language, they remain quite open to interpretation.”
While the show’s acts weaved together with seemingly little effort, the truth is that such a production requires great amounts of time, energy, and dedication from the cast.
“We are all working, or students, or working students with families to tend, or projects to complete, or papers to write or to grade, and all of us are volunteering our time because we care about each other, the show, and the message,” said McDonald.
Uncommon of many productions, the show’s success will be measured in the level of self-reflection and future actions of the audience after leaving the theatre.
“We hope that the audience will reflect on their own engagement with the topic of race,” said McDonald. “Specifically, whether they ‘see’ the problem of systemic racism or not, why they might not, and to assess their own level of engagement with this problem.”
In the future, RACY has intentions of expanding its reach to a wider audience and spreading the discussions of these issues to different parts of the community.
“I hope to apply to perform the show at festivals, offer our workshop to local high schools, and apply for grant funding to continue our work on this project,” said McDonald.