Rider University’s 2018 shared read “How Does It Feel To Be A Problem?: Being Young And Arab In America” inspires a student-run production, which centers around the prejudice that community members face within society.
By Megan Lupo
Inspired by the 2018 shared read, “How Does It Feel To Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America” by Moustafa Bayoumit, sophomore musical theater major Tessa Douglas organized a theatrical production entitled, “You’ve Got to Be Taught: A Night of Art and Acceptance” to highlight the issue of stereotyping at a local level on Nov. 30.
Located in the Spitz Theater, the idea of conceptualizing a stage event based on the shared read originated in an email sent out by Associate Professor of Music Theater Voice Mariann Cook, asking for volunteers from musical theater majors.
“Mariann Cook, [who is] the head of the musical theater department, sent out a call for freshmen to create a staged scene or reading [regarding Bayoumit’s book,] but nobody contacted her about it,” Douglas said. “I thought being the community assistant for a freshman dorm that I could inspire some freshmen to join this project, and then we could collaborate on something together.”
When Douglas asked sophomore musical theater majors Jerome Manning and Megan Raab, to help, they accepted, with Manning as a director, and Raab, as a choreographer.
The trio met with Cook, along with freshman technical theater major Regan Hoffman and freshman arts and entertainment industries management major Jamie Hafner, to brainstorm the purpose of the performance, as they all tried to avoid sounding self-righteous. Once they established their approach, Douglas started to ask around.
However, what Douglas thought was going to be an easy task — getting her musical theater residents involved — turned out to be the hardest part.
“The biggest challenge was getting people to audition because the artistic team was pretty set and motivated. But people would not audition for this because they didn’t know what stories were in or what the stories were about,” Douglas said. “They didn’t know that we weren’t directly talking about the stories in the book.”
Incorporating this obstacle into her show, the opening scene started with the performers that she was able to obtain, quoting the hesitations and initial preconceptions, such as “I didn’t read the book,” “I just can’t relate to it,” and “You should relate to it because you’re black.”
Although Douglas’ intention was not to concentrate directly on the shared read but on personal experiences, her students were unable to understand that notion.
“Our cast didn’t really reflect on the book. I knew that right from the get-go. The problem I noticed, around at least Lake House, is that students weren’t connecting to the book,” Douglas said. “They were like ‘I don’t relate to that. It’s not about people like me.’ But it is, and it’s important to learn about everyone who feels like a problem. This was a night, showing the different cultures.”
The message became the title of the show, as Douglas raised the question, “Are you
going to fall into stereotyping people or are you going to actually see people for who they really are?”
Douglas and her team utilized Facebook to inquire different stories from when their friends or families experienced an intolerance against them, which is where stories poured in from students, faculty, staff, relatives and people who saw the shared post.
One story told on stage was of Douglas’ father, who was an airplane mechanic and on his way to assist the airforce, when he was profiled the day after the Sept. 11 attacks because a police officer believed he was a terrorist.
Another memory that was retold was that of Hafner’s mother, who submitted stories of when she experienced sexism in the workplace.
Hafner, who was the marketing director for the show, said, “[These were the kinds of stories] that needed to be told at Rider. Diversity and the acceptance of diversity are both vital not just on a university campus, but around the world. Having just a small part in a greater movement such as this one was simply an honor.”
The event was a mixture of spoken scenes and dances, telling 14 stories in total, executed by 11 student entertainers.
The performers dedicated 14 hours of their time to rehearsal, where Raab choreographed Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” dance number, Manning blocked for the scenes and Douglas worked on the monologues.
According to Douglas, the songs of the show were chosen the Tuesday night before the
Friday show on the basis that the messages were about prejudices that different people face. Some of the other songs featured were “Imagine” by John Lennon and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” by Fred Rogers.
“I think that [the show’s music] helps students understand that there are prejudices in the world, and [people] just like them are stereotyped from day-to-day,” Douglas said. “It’s important to know that they are being stereotyped.”
Moving forward, Douglas said she hoped to continue with the project’s theme in creating future productions or base another show off of next year’s shared read because of the show’s success.
Hafner concluded, “The show went wonderfully. The cast and crew dedicated a great deal of time to the production and would have bent over backwards for the show. They were all just a joy to work with and made the show amazing.”
Published in the 12/5/18 edition.