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Thursday March 30th

'By the Way, Meet Vera Stark' confronts the issue of the missing Black woman

<p>The Kenan Theatre Company's performance of "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark" opens on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. Photo courtesy of David Navalinsky.</p>
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The Kenan Theatre Company's performance of "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark" opens on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. Photo courtesy of David Navalinsky.

Lynn Nottage’s play "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark" is coming to the Kenan Theatre Company, bringing a timeless discussion of race and gender relations.

The play, which is in honor of Lillian Chason, is directed by Alexis Green and is running from Oct. 10-14. Tickets for students are $5 and public tickets are $10. 

The play follows the plight of a young Black woman trying to break into the entertainment industry and highlights the troubles she faces based on both her race and gender, Green said. 

“Vera Stark kind of plays into the stereotype that Hollywood has boxed in Black women and Black people in order to make that break into the industry, and that sets the foundation of her career,” Green said. “The question is, do you do anything? Is it all worth it in the end? Is every sacrifice worth it no matter what the cost?”

Producing Director Jared Bowen-Kauth said although the play covers serious topics, they are complemented and accentuated by humor.

“For me, bringing this play to an undergraduate theater community, I think creates a lot of opportunity for conversation,” Green said. “I think the way this play draws you in with the spitball comedy nature is a good attraction for people who weren’t necessarily interested in being inside of the theater.” 

While the play primarily takes place in the 1930s and 1970s, issues that Stark faces are still common in modern times, said Kayla Brown, the actress who plays Vera Stark. 

“Race relations are not perfect now,” Brown said. “There’s still a lot of trouble in modern times with accepting Black women for who they are, and not using them as a commodity and letting them play roles that aren’t stereotypical.” 

Stark, although fictional, is based on actress Theresa Harris, who faced many challenges due to her race and gender, said Bowen-Kauth. 

“In all of the shows she performed in, she was never credited for the most part,” Bowen-Kauth said. “So you’ll never see her; she’s like this missing Black woman almost, because you never knew.” 

Green said she not only wanted to direct this play because of her love for Nottage’s work, but also because of her own struggles as a young, Black actress. 

“Grad school, for me, was a very difficult time in trying to figure out where I belonged in the conversation and what roles I could play,” Green said. “This play is a comedy, so it’s really fun and that’s how it tricks you, but there’s a lot of pain that it brings up for me just knowing some of the things I've had to do just to be in the room.”

Even with the rising popularity of films that highlight the struggles of Black women within the past few years, women of color continue to remain hidden, said David Navalinsky, director of undergraduate production. 

“We still sort of hide women, and especially women of color,” Navalinsky said. “Look at the popularity of the 'Hidden Figures' film. It’s somewhat in that same vein, and it’s something that we don’t discuss enough and don’t pay attention to enough, but we should.” 

Along with Black women, many other people of color tend to be excluded from casts and from the theater in general, Green said. 

“From my experience, I don’t experience the undergraduate theater department to be one that doesn’t understand the importance of equity, diversity and inclusion, but I imagine that there's shows, like most theater programs, that tend to be a majority white cast,” Green said. “So, it’s always revolutionary to do plays like this, where anybody who doesn’t go to the theater, especially people of color, can walk into the space and see five people who look like them.” 

Green hopes through this production, she can spark conversations and encourage people to think deeper about the experiences of Black women. 

“I hope that people feel a little braver to actually bring the conversation to the table, rather than making women of color do that themselves, rather than making us constantly be the ones to notice and to fight,” Green said. “I hope that they fight for us before we have to fight; it’s exhausting. I want them to see that and start to check-in with themselves about that.” 

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