Xiani Zhong

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Culture, Straight News, Writing

Play opens discussion about race on campus

New student-casted play to open discussion about race at UW

Play director said performance reflects daily reality students need to deal with

· Feb 25, 2016
(Read the story online)
A new theater production opened Thursday at University of Wisconsin, aiming to inspire conversations about race and diversity on campus.

“Smart People,” the latest work by Lydia Diamond, a Chicago-native playwright, centers around the life of four intellectuals in Harvard University and the racial issues they deal with on a daily basis, Grace Schneck, production stage manager, said.

The production and acting crew are predominantly composed of students, making it UW’s own interpretation of the original play that is currently running in New York City.

Based on the original script, UW’s cast reflects a varied racial demographic, including African-American and Asian characters in the play.

One storyline in the play, Schneck said, focuses on a fictional study of how people’s brain patterns can determine how people might perceive and treat other racial groups poorly.

The scientific research in the play is not accurate by itself, but it is based on related studies in the real world, Schneck said.

“[The fictional study] extrapolates on that idea of having subconscious bias that society has taught you, and takes it to the next level, which indicates that it’s actually scientific in the brain,” Schneck said.

Play director Chuck Smith said the UW drama and theater department wanted to stage the play because it fits within the campus climate of race and reflects the daily reality students need to deal with, both in academic and personal life.

“The college campus is the place where … these conversations should begin, because these young people are very open to discussions on any level, on any topic,” Smith said. “They are not afraid to talk about race as it is, in the world outside college.”

The play is important to UW because the campus has a lot to learn about discussions on race, Schneck said, and the varied racial presence will help raise people’s awareness of such conversations.

“I think the play acts as a platform to launch a really direct and open discussion about race relations on our campus and some of the diversity that we see, and of course, a lot of the diversity that we don’t see, and why that is and what that means for our students,” Schneck said.

The cast of “Smart People” began rehearsing in January, Schneck said, after the crew did extensive prior research to help actors get into their roles. She said Smith spent a lot of time with them to develop the characters and identify the focus of the presentation.

“I’ve been wanting to be just on board here at University of Wisconsin for many years,” Smith said.

The show is heavy on technology, Schneck said, including lots of lighting, sound, projection, costume and stage prop preparation.

“Smart People” will be showing at Mitchell Theatre in Vilas Hall for three weeks and closes March 13. It will run every Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and every Sunday at 2 p.m.

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