Local creates play reading series to open conversation on race

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SHERIDAN — During a time of nationwide racial tension, one Sheridan resident aims to open up a conversation to the predominantly white community through classic and contemporary works of theatrical art.

During the four-part series, called Black Lives in Plays, organizer Grace Cannon said the community will have the opportunity to explore plays that wouldn’t normally be produced in Sheridan.

She said the plays will also provide the opportunity to have conversations that wouldn’t normally take place.

The series started April 22 with Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” and will continue for the next three Saturdays with “Fences” by August Wilson, “The America Play” by Suzan Lori-Parks and “The Project(s)” by PJ Paparelli and Joshua Jaeger, respectively. The readings are held at the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library Inner Circle from 1-4 p.m.

Cannon said she chose plays that she was already familiar with, and tried to choose two that are more established and two that are more modern.

She said the last two plays are supposed to go together and take a broader view of race in America, starting on more of a historical side with “The America Play.” She said “The Project(s)” is a documentary-style play that takes on views of people living in public housing in Chicago.

“There’s a lot of discussion about systematic racism or systematized oppression and it’s… a lot of big words that are hard to digest sometimes,” Cannon said about the documentary-style play. “So, it’s really meant to take some really personal examples and talk about what that means.”

Trident Theatre managing and artistic director Aaron Odom participated in Saturday’s reading of “A Raisin in the Sun” and said he plans to come again. He said most art forms are not only to “enhance the beauty of life,” but are tools of social progress.

“We do need to pull back the curtain and peel the layers now and then in order for something to actually evolve,” Odom said. “So for something like this, when we’re focusing on a section of diversity and the discussion of diversity that is not part of our daily communication, it’s important to realize that things like this are happening outside of our bubble, for lack of a better word.”

Saturday’s play involved raw language in relation to race and sexuality, which some became uncomfortable with and at one point Odom apologized to the group before reciting his line. But he said the language is a piece of the larger conversation and that it is important to recognize it head on.

“There are times when we need to not only erase the stigma, but understand how much that (word) has been weaponized against certain people and how often it is just simply used as a one word, two syllable way to completely demean an entire person,” Odom said. “…It’s important to understand that that is something in this culture that we can’t necessarily erase, but facing it is, I think, a lot better than ignoring it.”

After the reading, the conversation opened up to topics of assimilation, housing discrimination and more.

Cannon said she was happy with Saturday’s turnout but would love to see more people come and join a discussion that isn’t always easy and that doesn’t happen very organically here.

“I think that it’s important that there’s sort of an understanding that yes, locally, this is where I live,” Cannon said, “but I also live in this greater country which I also love and care deeply about. And I want it to be as great as it can be, so that’s why this conversation’s important.”

By |April 27th, 2017|

About the Author:

Chelsea Coli joined The Sheridan Press in October 2016 as the county government, business and outdoors reporter. Coli has a master’s in journalism from Georgetown University and a bachelor’s from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Before moving to Wyoming, Coli taught English through the LADO International Institute and worked as an intern and copywriter for Ruby Studio in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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