COSA features play about racism on campus

Johnny Myers

jomyers@ursinus.edu

As most students were wind- ing down from their presentations during COSA, senior Angela Antoinette Bey was just getting started with theirs. Bey’s original work, “The White Feather Project,” appeared in the Black Box theater on April 25th at 6:00 pm.

“The White Feather Project” is a theatrical performance that addresses white fragility and cowardice. The play was inspired by scholarly resources and first-person accounts in order to discuss how colleges at large, and specifically Ursinus, fail at providing adequate resources to keep students of color safe on campus. Recent racially-charged incidents have ignited fierce discussion about what is considered a hate crime on campus. The work took a firm stance on these issues in particular and forced the Ursinus community to discuss how these topics hurt Ursinus’ racial understanding.

Director Angela Bey shared what drove them to create the piece. “In late August, I read Michael Harriot’s ‘White People Are Cowards’ published on “The Root.” The article inspired me to deep dive into the psychology of white fragility and cowardice at large. But I knew I needed a more specific access point and lots of time to create a piece like I’d hoped and imagined. When the grant was announced in September, I found the perfect incubator. I’d examine white fragility and cowardice at Ursinus College and I’d make my findings accessible, honest, and reflective. Thus, ‘The White Feather Project’ was born.”

Prior to the performance, audience members were asked to self-identify their racial identity before the performance began. Members that identified as people of color were permitted to enter the stage where the performance would take place. White audience members were asked to remain outside and read over a “Racial Equity Glossary,” which included a series of racially- significant terms such as cultural appropriation, diaspora, and intersectionality before they were permitted to enter the space.

Unlike a typical performance where the audience is seated during the production, Bey had audience members stand in the performance space with the actors. In the black box, the audience was gathered around a small table onto which the n-word was spelled out in white feathers. Throughout the play, screens that surrounded the audience projected images of campus emails that were sent out about the bias incident, the core questions,
and the question “what does it mean to be brave?” All of these images were meant to provoke questions in the audience as two actors performed scenes based on interviews Bey and their dramaturg, Rachel Cicero, con- ducted with students on campus. Cicero holds a degree from New College of Florida, where they studied anthropology, dance, and performance.

“When the grant was announced in September, I found the perfect incubator. I’d examine white fragility and cowardice at Ursinus College and I’d make my findings accessible, honest, and reflective. Thus, ‘The White Feather Project’ was born.” —Angela Bey Class of 2019

Bey shared a bit about the process of working with Cicero. “For dramaturg, I knew I wanted someone who’d complement my artistic impulses without being the same. Someone with a strong mission statement and a real passion for the kind of delicate, race-work we’d be conducting.
I also knew I wanted to find someone outside of the Ursinus community. So I conducted a search on TheatrePhiladelphia, went on a number of interviews, and found the perfect candidate— Rachel Cicero,” they said. “Rachel and I conducted auditions months later at Ursinus and Philadelphia. We looked for collaborators who were eager, dynamic, and invested in devising theatre practice— especially with ethnographic data.”

Bey said that their search lead them to “two professional Philadelphia-based performers,” Bonnie Baldini and Quinton Alexander.

Many of the scenes featured both white and black students responding to the recent racial bias incidents on campus. In one scene, a black actor gave a monologue about how he “loves CIE” because it exposes the racist students on campus. In another scene, a black student confronts a white student who is attempting to cover up the n-word in the snow. Even when the word is covered by an actor playing a campus safety officer and the snow melts away, however, the audience is reminded that the pain of incident remains because the n-word still haunts the stage in a chalk outline. The final scene referenced this year’s diversity monologues in which a student accused of involvement in a racial bias incident spoke.

Sonya Jacobsen ’19 at- tended the performance. She said that “White students should be educating themselves about these types of issues,” and was excited to witness the performance which left her with “more questions than I came in with.” She said that the “White Feather Project” was “a good way to talk about racial issues on campus.”

Bey hopes that the piece will draw attention to the fact that campus conversations on race and inclusion are not enough.

“There is a difference between “all are welcome here” and “this was created with you in mind.” I don’t think “including” people of color is enough,” they said. “Inclusion isn’t the problem. The problem is accountability. We need to hold each other accountable and understand that that process isn’t aiming to be wrapped up in a bow. It’s messy, vulnerable work and ever happening. White community members need to listen and hear POC, implicate themselves in our struggles, then not shy away from making safer spaces for us.”