I’ve been on a three-month sabbatical for research. My research project was participating in a play with the Nevada Repertory Company – Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.” It’s an American classic that, in 1959, was the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway and directed by an African American.
Here we are still making history 57 years later. When the play opened and ran for two weekends in March at the University of Nevada, Reno, it made history as the first play with a black cast to perform on campus. When asked why I agreed to be in the play, my response is: “how could I say ‘no’ to making history.”
The play is a response to Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem,” which begins with the question “What happens to a dream deferred?” The person who I applaud for actualizing her dream is Director Sandra Brunell Neace. Three years ago, Neace directed “Doubt: A Parable.” When I interviewed her for an article in the Reno Gazette-Journal, I asked her about the lack of diversity in the acting pool in Reno. At that time she said: “We don’t have a lot of African-American or Hispanic actors coming to our auditions. There are so many great plays that we could do if we had some African-American actors in our ensemble that we could pull from. How boring is it to have white people up there all the time? It’s boring. We need more diversity.”
Neace, who teaches at UNR, saw the caliber of black students in the theater department and knew this was the time to bring one of the hallmarks of American theater to Reno. All she needed was a “mature” black woman to play Mama and a 10-year-old black boy. She asked me to audition and I just happened to know a little boy interested in acting.
Now I’m not an actor by any means. Yes, about six years ago I was the Angry Vagina in the Vagina Monologues, but that was nothing compared to the daunting task I committed to. I knew that agreeing to do this meant I had to give it everything I had. My cast, the university and my community deserved that.
Yes, I neglected Art Spot for a few months, and I hope you forgive me.
Several people have asked me if I had fun. After much contemplation, I think not. Yes, it was rewarding, demanding, fulfilling, and magical, but it was not fun. In so many ways, that play and the role I played is my history – my family, my ancestors, me. I cried in rehearsals and every night on stage.
One of my roles as a blogger and co-owner of Art Spot Reno is to be an advocate for the arts. This experience has cemented that charge. I sincerely believe more than ever that we must pay artists for their time and expertise. I know the many hours I devoted to this and think about all of the artists in our community who dedicate their lives to bringing us joy, identity, awareness, and so much more. They deserve to be compensated for our enjoyment.
Now about that other issue of more diversity…