PlayMakers Repertory Company will open a new production tonight that forces audiences to face societally ingrained prejudice and overlooked, white-washed history.
The play, “We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, From the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915,” was written by award-winning playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury.
It follows six American actors as they try to create a play about Namibian genocide from the late 19th to early 20th century. Instead of seeing the show come to life, the play takes place in a rehearsal space and follows the actors’ preparation.
The plot focuses on the actors, both black and white, as they face their own history and attitudes about race.
“It’s very meta for me because I am playing Actor Six, and Actor Six is playing Black Woman. I’m still exploring how to make the character my voice while still being her voice,” said actress Caroline Strange, an MFA candidate in UNC’s professional actor training program.
Nathaniel Kent, an actor and guest artist from New York City, said the show is a criticism of their creative process in some respects.
“The artists are trying to tell a story that they think should be heard. They think that art is this noble cause that is trying to advance our thinking and progress, but they get caught up,” he said. “They have no idea that they themselves have these biases — they kind of sneak up on them.”
San Fransisco-based director Desdemona Chiang heads the project. She said the play highlights the narcissistic tendency of Americans.
“If you only know that you are the most powerful and privileged people in the world, you have no context for oppression,” she said.
Strange said the show is immensely valuable.
“The colored people who hear that their experiences aren’t valid — that they’re making a mountain out of a molehill, and all of that reverse racist talk — they’re going to see these issues on stage and see their own experiences in the show through a modern lens,” she said.
On the other hand, some audience members may be uncomfortable.
“When I first read this play, I thought that white liberals specifically are not going to like it because they’re going to see parts of themselves that they don’t want to admit exists,” Strange said.
Chiang said the show is important on a college campus, but she’s not sure how audiences will react to it.
“I’m still questioning how will this play dialogue in the community,” she said.
“But it’s important that young people see it because of its conversation around race and inclusion and class.”