Black Theater Workshop explores Trayvon Martin case, social justice

Students will recite poetry, dance and act out artistic expressions at the annual Black Theater Workshop in response to the Trayvon Martin case and social justice.

Students Craig Williams and Ashley Dozier rehearse for the 2014 Black Theater Workshop, which focuses on the Trayvon Martin case and social justice. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Stallings

Martin, a Florida teenager, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, who defended his actions using Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.  Zimmerman was found not guilty.

The workshop, which takes place at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, features nearly 30 students performing original work.

Theater and dance professor Kathryn Bentley said she chose the Martin case as the theme because the reaction to the not-guilty verdict brought up issues of race and social justice.

“I thought that that was something we need to creatively address,” Bentley said. “As an artist, I’ve always [felt] we have a voice and that we can use it to bring social issues to light and we can do it creatively.”

Many students who perform in the workshop come from outside the theater department, which Bentley said is wonderful.

“I think that all of us need to think that we have that in us, an ability to be creative,” Bentley said, “and the fact that so many people who are not theater majors say, ‘You know, I want to be involved with that’ … just really shows there’s this need to express ourselves creatively.”

Senior theater performance and political science major Tyson Cole, also a crew member for Black Theater Workshop, said he is looking forward to watching students perform original work, noting one piece will be a monologue about Martin’s case from a white man’s perspective.

“All the issues presented are really relevant for today’s time, and I think that’s cool,” Cole said.

Senior theater performance major Domonique Armstrong, also assistant director, said it was nice to see submissions from students outside of the theater department.

“To hear from other ethnicities, people coming up with their own ideas, it was really nice just seeing that we could all kind of come together for such a strong issue and create and be the creators that we are,” Armstrong said.

Freshman biological sciences major Alleah Moore will perform in three pieces for the workshop and said she became interested in performing at Bentley’s suggestion. Though she has a performing background from junior high and high school, Moore was “never interested” in theater. But she said Black Theater Workshop felt like a “new experience” she wanted to try.

“It seemed cool. It seemed like something that I would enjoy, something that would be worthwhile to be in,” Moore said.

Using the Martin case as the theme, according to Moore, “sends a good message.”

“I think it sends a message that we do not forget about the Trayvon Martin case,” Moore said. “We still think that it is unfair of how the case ended up, and I feel like with these different pieces they kind of take a different role on how we each reacted to the piece and we know that it’s not fair and we want to speak out about it.”

However, Armstrong said she was initially hesitant about the theme.

“As we started digging and finding other theories and ideas and other cases and other incidents I started to connect it to other things,” Armstrong said. “So it wasn’t as focused on Trayvon, but more of the basis of the issue.”

Cole said the theme is a “tough topic” and “what theater should be about.”

“It’s something fairly recent, which doesn’t really happen often for black theater workshop…,” Cole said. “[It’s] something that’s really relevant to our time that can ignite a lot of conversation.”

Bentley said then-SIUE professor Lisa Colbert began Black Theater Workshop in 1998.

The event is free, but admission tickets can be found at the Fine Arts Box Office in Dunham Hall.

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