Story by Elizabeth Schoof, Staff Writer
Photo courtesy of the Ebony Road Players
“One Simple Question” was presented here at Aquinas on February 23. It was brought to campus by the Jane Hibbard Idema Women’s Study Center, as well as the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. I must say, it was without a doubt one of the most interesting plays I have ever had the privilege of watching.
Written and directed by Aquinas’ own Randy Wyatt, the play was performed by a local theatre group known as the Ebony Road Players. The play, which was inspired by Loving V. Virginia, the court case that overturned miscegenation laws here in the United States, told a wide variety of stories about interracial love, marriage, and racial identity. Each story told belonged to women here in West Michigan. They were all in response to the following question: “If your experience was a vehicle, which would it be?” While the play showed that our nation has come a long way since the 1950s, it also demonstrated that we still have a long way to go. The show, which was only 30 minutes long, consisted of five actresses with very few props. The simplicity of the play allowed the audience to focus on the stories being shared. More importantly, it demonstrated that even though we all travel different roads, at the end of the day, love is love.
Although this was my first time watching the Ebony Road Players on stage, they have been involved in West Michigan for quite some time. In 2014, they partnered with Aquinas’ Center for Diversity and Inclusion as well as the Jane Hibbard Idema Women’s Study Center to perform Ntozake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf”, Tracey Scott Wilson’s “The Story”, Jeff Stetson’s “The Meeting”, and Emily Mann’s “Having Our Say.”Aside from the work done with Aquinas, the Ebony Road Players have also introduced a theatre class at Coit Elementary School here in Grand Rapids, led theatre workshops at Wealthy Street Theatre, and have even performed “One Simple Question” at ArtPrize.
The primary goal of the Ebony Road Players is to bring communities together, as well as to inspire a discussion of race and culture that provides opportunities for education. Their work allows many voices to be heard. That goal, although still in progress, was accomplished in Upper Wege during the panel discussion that occurred after the performance. Because the play had very few props and very few cast members, the audience was able to focus primarily on the stories being told. Brooklyn Waggoner, a freshman at Aquinas, described it best when she said, “It allowed for a deep connection between the actresses and the audience.”
The show was simplified for that reason alone. It was important to be able to humanize the women telling the stories, because the play focused on an “otherness” that changes the way a story is told. Race changes the experiences that individuals have, and although those experiences are different for each individual, each one deserves to be told as accurately as possible.
As Wyatt explained it, “This is the life I have lived, and this is the way that it has happened.”
One of the major discussions during the panel was on privilege and education. Although topics such as race are frequently difficult for individuals to talk about, it is absolutely vital that we take the time to discuss them. “One Simple Question” focused primarily on small stories about oppression. Wyat felt that those stories were what helped people connect to the issue best, as viewers were more likely to connect to experiences that people have on a daily basis.
He stated that “the honesty of the little stories is much more potent.”
In order for us to become fully educated, we must understand the intersectionality of different issues. We have to see the ways in which different issues intersect with one another, but we also have to see how they intersect in our own lives.
Understanding how issues intersect in our lives is not to be confused with experiencing the issues firsthand. One of the best ways for individuals to educate themselves on the issues that members of our community face today is through the act of listening rather than empathizing. Many of us are privileged enough that we try to empathize with individuals who are facing oppression rather than stand by their side and listen to them. We allow potentially insulting an individual to prevent us from having an open discussion. Every individual in the discussion panel agreed that it is much more important to make mistakes and educate yourself from them than it is to simply sit there and tell someone “you know what they are going through”. The truth of the matter is that everyone experiences things differently, but recurring issues are still new to many of us because we do not take the time to sit down and listen to others.
The play’s final lines emphasized that even though our journeys are different, we are all trying to get to the same destination. The journey to that destination is one full of obstacles, but it is up to all of us to try and make it as smooth as possible for those around us. That can be done through education. That can be done through acceptance. Most importantly, that can be done through love.