By Hannah Newman
Rider’s School of Fine and Performing Arts (SFPA) presented its annual production of “Upon the Shoulders We Stand” which explores the challenges and achievements of the Black community in honor of Black History Month. Production members embraced this history through dances, songs, short acts and monologues on Feb. 11 in the Bart Luedeke Center.
The production also returned after several Title IX investigations took place within SFPA during the 2020-2021 school year.
One report from an investigation found that a professor, which the report does not list by name, created programmatic barriers that resulted in “disparate treatment” during the production process of “Upon the Shoulders We Stand.”
Freshman acting major and vocalist Nick Bryant shared his description of the production and its significance to both his community and to humanity as a whole.
“I would describe this show as Black joy. It really shows how we as a community have been oppressed and how we’ve risen, how we’ve come from practically nothing and made something of ourselves to prove that we are just as good and that we are worthy. We are all humans who share the same blood running through our veins, the same bones made of muscle and tissue; we are no different from anyone else, and it’s just truly a celebration of Black joy, which is amazing to be a part of,” said Bryant.
Throughout the production, videos of historical figures giving speeches on empowerment and clips of crucial points in history were shown via a screen in the background of the play to signify each part of history the performers were displaying.
Bryant pointed out his favorite act in the play and message .
“My favorite number in this show would have to be ‘Stand Up’ because it is such a powerful number where we all come together and sing. It really sends the message that all of our voices are one and that we are strong and powerful as a community,” said Bryant.
Junior musical performance major Alex Lathon also shared the effect that this production had on him.
“My favorite part about being in ‘Shoulders’ is that it feels very much like a home where I can be myself, which is something I really appreciate,” said Lathon.
This production allowed performers to communicate with the audience through their theatrical talent and love for the stage. Each number symbolized an essential chapter or message about the community or the performer’s life as an individual.
Junior musical theater major Tiffany Beckford explained the purpose of this production and what the cast felt their job really was in this show.
“I would say that ‘Shoulders’ is more than just a show allowing Black people to perform. ‘Shoulders’ is about sharing the history of African Americans in this country. We go through the time that we arrived here up until present day and detail the struggles we went through specifically as people of color in the performance industry but also just in general. This is a story we are telling. We are using our talents to share our history,” said Beckford.
Black History Month runs through the entire month of February and is dedicated to the accomplishments of the Black community in the United States. “Upon the Shoulders We Stand” is built on the passion that performers at Rider feel for their community.
“This is us doing our part to contribute to Black History Month, and it has been a very gratifying experience for me personally,” said Beckford.