By Sarah Clayton
The DiscoverShelby Theatre within the Center for the Arts opened its first show, “Stickfly,” on March 2.
Written by Black playwright Lydia R. Diamond, the drama centers around the LeVay family while they are away in their vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard.
What starts out as an annual family vacation turns into days of the characters learning a lot about each other and themselves as well as having conversations about family, parenting, love, betrayal, marriage, politics, as well as what being an African American in America is like.
The show deals with race, class and gender politics. The production was directed by guest director Chalethia Williams, a professor at Miles College.
When it was announced last semester that the theatre department would be putting on two productions there were many concerns on how the productions would go. There were concerns about how audience members would be seated, how to have safe rehearsals and whether or not there would be a live audience.
For starters, the department did not want to do a full out production of a show because that would be a health risk for everyone involved with the production.
They decided to do a stage reading version of the show with the same dialogue, but less blocking, less props and less involvement of a stage crew.
The actors on stage wore masks and each of them had a chair to sit in and a music stand to put their scripts on, all six feet apart from one another.
According to Williams, “these changes force the audience to listen to the story and imagine and trust that the facial gestures of the actors match and reinforce what they are saying.”
All the actors who were cast were tested for COVID before and during production, and understudies were cast to ensure that the show could go on if one of the actors caught COVID. The understudies got their own show on Thursday March 4.
The process has been challenging for everyone involved wanting to perform a show while also at the same time wanting to keep people safe.
“One of the challenges for us is how do we navigate as actors like what is okay as far as spacing it was confusing because everything was just up in the air. As actors you realize you can only control what you can control,” said Labrina Riles, who plays Taylor in the show.
For all the actors, it was an exercise of adaption and going with the flow of everything going on especially with the new space, a guest director and with all the COVID policies.
“It was a process that we slowly had to adapt to and also try to dissect a new play over Zoom that’s an experience amongst itself, but I think the challenges we had we had a good chance overcoming them,” said Maleha Larry, who plays Cheryl in the show.
With all the challenges also comes a lot of positive outcomes with “Stickfly” being the first production within the Shelby Discover Theatre in the Center for the Art. For a lot of the cast, it is there first production here at the university.
Shermine Paige, a transfer student and the understudy for Flip, stated that it felt very special to be on a new stage. For a lot of the cast, it is their senior show.
“Honestly, it feels like a blessing, I think it’s a little nostalgia for us already because we know it’s our last show here, but it feels like a blessing to christen the new building and to experience it with an African American director and African American show. It’s a lot of good feelings,” said Maleha Larry.
Not only that but “Stickfly” is also one of the few Black shows to be put on by the theatre department here at the university with the last Black show being “Clybourne Park” back in 2016.
It is even more special to the cast that it’s the first production within the new building.
“It’s the first predominantly black show at this school with a mostly black cast which I think is important because students coming in who might be thinking about coming into the program or students who are already in the program see themselves on stage. I think the message of family and racial divide is a very important message to give to the campus,” said Meagan Williams, who is the understudy for Cheryl.
“Sometimes you don’t get to always see someone like you on the stage and being able to be on that stage and have other people see that they are like okay, I do have shot at this. I do have a chance to be somewhere,” said Paige.
When asked about what the show meant to them Larry had to say this, “It’s a show that we actually get to experience within our own households. Things that we experience… I want people to get something out of the show there are so many lessons to be learned and the fact that this is how Black people are in their own spaces where they are comfortable, where they are the dominate people in the room where they have to conceal themselves around other races. I want people to realize that there is an equal field of being excellent and being Black.”
It’s safe to say that the cast of “Stickfly” has made a big impact on the history of the new building and there is hope that more productions like this featuring a main Black cast will happen in the near future of the department.