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Thursday October 28th

'We have a lot of stories to tell': Theatre company tackles themes of diversity

<p>Students playing soldiers in Black Arts Theatre Company's (BATC's) "Black Girl, Interrupted" help Jared Bowen-Kauth, playing Kofi, stand up after being punched in the scene by Andrew Linden, playing Dr. Lanham, as director of the show and founder of BATC, Elizabeth Howard, watches on at rehearsal in Swain Hall on Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. Rehearsals for BATC's show, "Black Girl, Interrupted," are in full swing as the cast prepares for their performances on Nov. 7, 9, and 10.&nbsp;</p>
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Students playing soldiers in Black Arts Theatre Company's (BATC's) "Black Girl, Interrupted" help Jared Bowen-Kauth, playing Kofi, stand up after being punched in the scene by Andrew Linden, playing Dr. Lanham, as director of the show and founder of BATC, Elizabeth Howard, watches on at rehearsal in Swain Hall on Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. Rehearsals for BATC's show, "Black Girl, Interrupted," are in full swing as the cast prepares for their performances on Nov. 7, 9, and 10. 

UNC junior Liz Howard spent her summer looking for a play that spoke to her. Howard created Black Arts Theatre Company last year — and when she stumbled upon “Black Girl, Interrupted,” she knew she had found the company’s inaugural show. 

On Nov. 7, 9 and 10, Black Arts Theatre Company will produce its first play, “Black Girl, Interrupted,” in Swain Hall.

The show follows a Black New York Times journalist investigating a story about a female soldier’s death and the depths she goes to uncover the truth. 

“(The play) talks about violence against Black women, which is obviously something that's really important to me as a Black woman,” Howard said. “The violence that happens to us and is covered up or is just brushed off is still just as important. It also talks about microaggression, white privilege and themes that are very prevalent in our society today.”

“Black Girl, Interrupted” is a new show by LyaNisha Gonzalez. BATC is one of few companies to ever produce the show. UNC sophomore Lauren Ragsdale said this made being in the play a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

“I especially like that it's never been done before (at UNC),” Ragsdale said. “Our director, Liz, was literally getting updated scripts as soon as the playwright was done. She was talking to her and it's a really new play that I think is going to have a really awesome message.”

The cast of “Black Girl, Interrupted” is mainly people of color. UNC junior Jared Bowen-Kauth said this aspect of the show appeals to him as an actor and a person of color. 

“I feel like up until recently, there have been rare opportunities for people of color to be in the arts at UNC,” Bowen-Kauth said. “Specifically, for people of color to feature in plays about themselves, about their struggles, about their history.”

Bowen-Kauth has been involved in theatre for years, and said “Black Girl, Interrupted” is the first show he has ever been in where he gets to portray an African-American man. 

“I think it’s a really rare opportunity for me to connect with a different side of me that I haven’t had the chance to before,” Bowen-Kauth said.

Howard said the actors’ race is important to the narrative because casting them allows for the play to teach audiences about experiences people of color have in real life. She said their race is a part of the story, and that it’s significant to have the actresses be Black women when telling the story of Black women.

“Just doing shows with narratives and storylines like that and having Black folk be kind of the center of it is important because it shows that we're not just all on one note, we're not just one thing,” Howard said. “We're multifaceted, we're multidimensional and we have a lot of stories to tell.”

“Black Girl, Interrupted” also features new faces to UNC theater. One new face is Ragsdale: she said she auditioned because she wanted to meet more people in the theater community. 

Since Ragsdale joined the cast, she said she has made some great friends and that the cast is like a family.

“Every time I come into rehearsal, we're all messing around and playing games and it's so much fun,” Ragsdale said. “We've all learned different things from each other, and we've been able to work together really, really well because we all bring different things to the table. That definitely has had an effect on my acting and also my perspectives on life and the way I behave and act towards other people.”

The cast and crew has worked since the beginning of the school year to produce “Black Girl, Interrupted,” and Howard said what she hopes audiences leave with the knowledge to be active listeners with stories of trauma.

Bowen-Kauth said a theme is a lack of Black female voices, and that he hopes the show will teach audiences to help women to speak up.  

“A lot of females in this show are victims of sexual assault, so I think that’s another really big theme of the show,” Bowen-Kauth said. “I think it’s important that we recognize that these things can happen anywhere, to anyone, specifically women of color, and that we’re not really taking advantage of doing anything about it.” 

Howard said working on the show has influenced her, especially as a survivor of sexual assault who understands the situations the characters go through in the play. She said the messages the show produces have really stuck with her.

“I hope the show helps students to realize how Black people are just so diverse in everything that we do and kinda just introduce a narrative like that to the community that we haven't really seen before,” Howard said. 

@lizw_outwheels

arts@dailytarheel.com

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