This was our original People of Color group. What a bunch of beautiful and lovely people! Many of our former members were also apart of the Improv night shown below. Photo by Iris Mejia Copy Right 2015
Intro: I am a facilitator for People of Color group on campus where we come together to create events, workshops, performances so that we can start conversations in our community about what it means to wrestle with our identities of race and ethnicity, social justice issues and following Jesus
On May 19 2016, our group hosted a improvisational performance utilizing members of our community from Intervarsity Christian fellowship at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The original idea came from a theatre director named Augusto Boal who created a form of theatre to have people who identified as queer work together as a community to solve their problems.
I credit my African American Theatre class for providing this opportunity to write a play annotation on this improv show!
The original idea came from a theatre director named Augusto Boal who created a form of theatre to have people who identified as queer work together as a community to solve their problems. The first time I saw this theatre performance played out was at an Asian American Communications and Relationships workshop hosted by my friend Maricar. The format for this improv performance with People of Color group was that we split our fellowship into five racial groups, White, Black, Asian, Latinx, and Mixed race.
Each person would have to choose to belong to one group that they racially identified as. Each group came up with a five minute skit detailing what types of problems each group might face when dealing with an issue such as immigration in America. Each group would have their own space to go up and perform and they were to improv the beginning and middle of the plot. They would end their skit by presenting the problem and then the community (or audience) would be given a few minutes to come up with a solution to help that racial group. Then the community would send in one or two people to become apart of the skit and take on a new role in order to act out solution to the problem.
In the first skit, the Asian American group came up with improving a story line where a boy named Marc was trying to explain to his parents why he wanted to major in film and acting. In this skit’s dynamic, his parents were immigrant parents who discouraged him from pursuing film and acting because
they did not believe that was a way for him to make money in order to take care of the family. It is often culturally respectable for the children to take care of the parents after they graduate from college. Marc’s sister was readily accepted by his parents because she was pursuing a degree in Biology, which from his parent’s perspective STEM majors are more likely to make more money.
Marc, then goes to an audition where he is trying out for the lead character, but the casting officials suggest that he should play the Asian side kick or some role that is more “fitting” for an Asian man to play such as the stereotypes of being a doctor or engineer. Discouraged, Marc leaves the audition without getting any part to play. In the solution that the community provides, one of the audience members is a person of color who pretends to be a writer that is writing roles for people of color in Hollywood. The other audience member, plays a white man who owns an independent film studio who offers Marc some investment capital in the independent film sector to create a film where people of color and in particular Asian Americans can be better represented.
This skit represented the problem of how Asian Americans are seen as the perpetual foreigner who may never get the chance to be seen by society as someone who can be fully human, who can play any aspect of being human outside of the perceived stereotypes. Also the skit represented the struggle of Asian Americans even having representation in mainstream or independent theatre,film, or arts industry. It challenged the community to think of a solution where they could show up for the interests of those who would be underrepresented in the media.
In the second skit, the Black/African American group comes up and presents their play of where they are African immigrants from Eritrea who are in America. Their son, Ian grows up in a bilingual household and is struggling with his English class at school. His parents are not able to help him because English is not their first language as well, but expects him to do better than he currently is. Ian is also faced with pressures because his siblings have adjusted well into American culture and with the English language, yet he is unable to adjust into the society that he was brought into.
The way that the community shows up for Ian is that they send in a white teacher who takes the initiative to reach out to Ian and offers to help him with his English homework after school. This dynamic of initiative is helpful, because often times the student may be pressured to take that step into getting help, but sometimes it is necessary for those in power to step up and help out those that may be facing barriers
that are unseen in the classroom such as students that struggle with English who come from immigrant families that do not speak English as their first language. Also, this play presented the story of recent African immigrants. At least in the media, the stories of immigration are largely presented to be about Latinx Americans or Asian Americans, but the stories of African immigrants are not often talked about. This skit brought in a realization for me and the audience that there are African immigrants who are struggling to adjust into American culture as well.
In the third skit the the Mixed race group presents the story of two women wanting to be married. The first woman is from Japan and the other woman is from Guatemala. Though when they decide to have their families meet, their families dislike each other and question why these two women should get married if their cultures are so different.
In the solution, the community sends up someone who tries to explain that perhaps the two women should have talked it over with their families first before getting married or before having the families meet each other. But the solution that the community presents does not actually resolve itself in the skit due to lack of timing for the families to figure out whether or why they should accept each other.
In the Latinx skit, it is a skit that talks about the experiences of two different Latinx families that are trying to get their children to college. The first family is a third generation Latinx American family who is already well adjusted into the American education system. For them getting their children to college is not much of a problem and they even receive preference from the admissions counsel to receiving help to getting in because this family has more money to offer the school. The second family is a first generation, low income Latinx family who is unaware of how to do financial aid for their child going to college and unaware of the scholarships out there for Latinx students due to language barriers and poor accessibility to resources.
The solution that the community presents itself is that they send in “Dr. Alyssa Bercasio” who is a Filipina 1st generation woman of color, who graduated from college in the United States. She is an advocate for the first generation Latinx family and advises the students, resources such as scholarships for people of color and also reaches out to be a mentor for those students because they share similar barriers in getting into college.
The last group, the White people skit took place at Thanksgiving dinner where the grandparents are talking to their grandchildren about who they should vote for, for president. They are Trump supporters who agree that building a wall and having people immigrate the “legal” way is the best way. The grandparents are immigrants from Poland but they remember going through immigration the “right way” than compared to the current population of immigrants who go to America the “wrong way.” They do not acknowledge their privilege of being White in America that increases their accessibility for immigrating to this country.
The solution that the community sends is Jefferson, a Black pastor who is invited to their Thanksgiving dinner and presents with them a bible verse Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – “For the Lord your God…loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” He advises the grandparents to think of themselves also as foreigners who were brought in by the grace of God into America so they too should be welcoming and sensitive to those that come from different places.
The strength of this improv play production is that because it involved the audience, people were able to build relationships in the community by working together to come up with a solution for each play. Also these skits encouraged community members that every immigration story is different and we should all be loving to our neighbor. Also we are encouraged to be listening and sharing about our stories of where our family and cultures come from. A weakness for this production would be that there is not always a clean solution for the community to provide or the problem sometimes takes a lot more than a few minutes to solve thereby presenting an inaccurate method of giving help to the community group that is faced with a conflict. Also the person that the community decides to send in sometimes leaves out other groups that may want to present a different solution to a problem, so whoever is sent up, that is all determined by how much confidence they may have in performing on stage.
Those with more confidence may have a higher chance of presenting their solutions thereby leaving out others who may feel shy but have a wonderful solution to present to the group facing a problem. Rainbow Theatre at UCSC should definitely try out an improv performance such as this that breaks the fourth wall by inviting in the audience to become apart of a play that is uplifting, advocates for people to share their stories and to be a team in innovating solutions to a social issue that affects all of us in various ways.
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