This weekend, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library will become a theater stage for undergraduate performers who will pay tribute to a century’s worth of African-American theater.
In conjunction with the Beinecke’s “Casting Shadows: Integration on the American Stage” exhibition, which showcases a variety of works by notable 20th-century African-American playwrights, eight members of Yale’s Heritage Theater Ensemble will perform a series of monologues and scenes from the collection on Saturday afternoon. The library’s collection is amalgamation of playbills, written correspondence, photographs and other ephemera from a variety of the Beinecke’s archives. Andrew Williams ’16, a member of the ensemble, said the upcoming performance is inspired by pieces to which group members felt a personal connection.
“We picked the pieces that resonated with us and that we would also enjoy as actors,” Williams said.
The monologues include excerpts from Paul Green’s adaptation of Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” Langston Hughes’s “Don’t You Want to Be Free?” and “In the Red and Brown Water” by Tarell Alvin McCraney DRA ’07.
The works in the collection provide a glimpse into the earliest instances in which African-American roles in theater were played by black, rather than white, actors. Melissa Barton, the curator of drama and prose for the Yale Collection of American Literature at the Beinecke, said the featured monologues are all part of the collection currently on display, adding that the performance hopes to highlight often forgotten pieces of American theater.
“I hope that the exhibition demonstrates that there is much more to the history of African American theater than August Wilson and Lorraine Hansberry,” Barton wrote in an email.
Ashley Greaves ’16, who plays several roles in the showcase, said the pieces from the Beinecke collection highlight issues of race and ethnicity, specifically for African Americans in the United States. “In the Red and Brown Water,” for instance, tells the story of an African-American high school track star who faces several obstacles once her mother falls ill, Greaves explained.
Greaves said she hopes the performance will draw parallels between issues faced by African Americans in theater during the twentieth century as well as today. She noted that her characters face a variety of racial challenges that Yale students face daily, adding that the goal of the show will be to engage the community with these issues and challenge the audience to think about racial conflict in today’s society.
“I think especially when you come to the performance and see and hear what we’re talking about, you’ll say okay, that makes sense in today’s context, how some of these issues that were really big during the civil rights movements and of that era are coming back today in greater force,” Greaves said.
“Casting Shadows” will be on display at the Beinecke until April 18.