On Tuesday, Saphia Suarez ’21 and Iragi Nkera ’21 staged their first production of “The Family Showcase,” a play that tackles issues of race, migration and self-determination from the perspective of young first-generation Americans.
The two-person show — which runs from Nov. 17 to Nov. 19 on Zoom — follows two students who are assigned to write a scene together. They soon discover how much they have in common, as they come to terms with their shared identities as children of African immigrants. Suarez and Nkera, who co-wrote the show, are also the executive producers and stars of the production.
Arnold Setiadi ’22 and Bairon Reyes Luna ’22 are co-producers.
“I’m interested in the liberatory power of narratives,” Suarez said. “It’s about reclaiming agency over your story and how you decide to tell it, how you decide to write the rest of your story.”
Suarez and Nkera wrote this piece for their theater and performance studies senior project. Mirroring the play’s plot, Suarez and Nkera’s collaboration began with an assignment in their theater studies class, where they were each assigned to write and perform a short original piece. They noticed their gravitation towards similar themes — including family conflict and the difficulty of navigating different cultures — and began talking about working on their senior project together.
“It was amazing because there were lots of similarities but a lot of differences,” Nkera said of their collaborative process.
Nkera is the son of two Congolese immigrants, and Suarez’s father immigrated from Sudan. Suarez said that conversation between her and Nkera flowed “naturally” and that their shared cultural experiences helped them develop the central idea of their production: the often-strained relationship between African parents and their children who have grown up abroad.
“It was very meaningful to hear someone else say that ‘yeah, I also went through this and am still going through this too,’” Nkera said.
As part of the writing process, Nkera interviewed his mother and father in an effort to better understand the perspectives of immigrant parents. The result, he said, was a deeper understanding of his cultural background.
“I learned that there’s a lot of things that I should discuss with my family about their history and my history,” he said, adding that he asked them “questions that I’ve never asked them before.”
Due to public health protocols, the production is being held virtually over Zoom. Yale gave Suarez and Nkera permission to perform unmasked in theaters, but they have to use separate facilities — with Suarez in the Whitney Theater and Nkera in the Theater and Performance Studies Ballroom. Their video feeds are streamed together on a single Zoom call for viewers. Designers and the stage manager control lights, sound and animation remotely, in what Nkera describes as “a very tech-heavy” production process.
“It was definitely a challenge,” Cleopatra Mavhunga ’23, who directed the show, said. “But I, even just in concept, chose to lean more on the positives and what we could gain out of it.” For example, having the actors perform in two different venues allowed for “two extremely unique sets,” according to Mavhunga.
Megan Ruoro ’24, the play’s stage manager, told the News that she resonated deeply with the show.
“It really hit hard,” she said, adding that reading the play is “like I’m reading my own story.”
Suarez, who began writing plays because she wasn’t being offered acting roles that she resonated with, received similar positive reactions from audience members.
According to Suarez, many said they “felt seen by it, and that’s exactly what I try to do in the plays that I write.”
The last production of “The Family Show” will be at 8 p.m. on Nov 19.
Simisola Fagbemi | firstname.lastname@example.org