In the School of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies’s latest play production“Baltimore,” race plays a leading role. The story follows a black resident adviser at a small New England college as she handles a racist incident on her floor. Performed in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, the play ran from Feb. 26 to March 5. The 90-minute production was written by Kirsten Greenidge as a part of the Big Ten New Play Initiative for female playwrights. Although the story only spans over a 12-hour time frame, a large number of contemporary issues surrounding race, gender and sexuality are highlighted.
Shelby, a newly hired RA portrayed by junior theatre major Summer Brown, has a hard time tending to her residents’ needs, especially following a racist incident that takes the campus by storm. Fiona – a white girl from a black neighborhood, played by sophomore theatre performance major Mikala Nuccio – drew an offensive portrait of black student Alyssa- played by junior theatre major Agyeiwaa Astante- on her whiteboard.
The varying backgrounds and opinions of Shelby, her Filipino best friend Grace – played by junior theatre performance and family sciences dual degree candidate Kristen El Yaouti – and Shelby’s eight freshman residents, prompt heated and emotionally charged discussions about the current state of racism in America. And this racism isn’t just black and white – it also involves Latinos, Asians and multiracial peoples.
“I think the play did a good job of giving all characters different viewpoints. Remembering that everyone doesn’t see the situation the same way you do and being aware of differences is really important in college,” freshman journalism major Laura Spitalniak said. “You’re in close proximity to so many different kinds of people constantly, so if you don’t respect everyone’s differences you aren’t going to have a good time.”
Word of the incident travels around campus quickly, and Shelby attempts to flee from her responsibilities. Instead, she worries about her failed interview with newly appointed Dean Hernandez, played by Philip Schultz, a senior pursuing a dual degree in theatre performance and history. Hernandez is the school’s first black dean and a civil rights activist. He has difficulty steering Shelby away from her beliefs that America is now a “post-racial” society where she refuses to place labels on herself or others.
Hernandez teaches her about a poem that the play itself is loosely based off of: “The Incident” by Countee Cullen. Telling the story of a narrator who is deeply affected by a racial slur, it reads, “I saw the whole of Baltimore/ From May until December/ Of all the things that happened there/ That’s all that I remember.”
The conversations had in “Baltimore” are ones that everyone should be having in real life, but are sometimes uncomfortable starting. The story is also valuable to resident assistants on campus, putting the importance of their own jobs into perspective.
“The play was well acted. It definitely made me think a lot about my role on campus,” junior accounting major Ben Hawtof, a resident assistant in Anne Arundel Hall, said. “In my position, I need to be cognizant of different people’s experiences. It is important to be as inclusive and accepting as possible when creating a community for my residents.”