Gitana Productions hits the STLCC-Meramec campus, discusses race relations and police perspective
By: BRITTNEY FARROW
On Oct. 9, STLCC – Meramec partnered with Gitana Productions to bring “Black and Blue” to the stage in the Humanities East building. The play, which was written by Lee Patton Chiles and produced by Gitana Executive Director Ceclilia Nadal, discussed the issue of racial discrimination and the tension between police and the African – American community.
Despite coming to Meramec more than a year after the death of Michael Brown, the play also chronicled his death and followed the nature of the media coverage that surrounded the events of Ferguson – including protests, community backlash and the assault on stationed officers.
The idea to bring the production to the Meramec campus first came to Dean of Business and Communications Vernon Kays after seeing it performed at a museum with his wife, who is a professor at the University of Illinois – Springfield.
Immediately, Kays said he found the play to be forthright and honest with a very powerful voice, and was impressed by the variety of perspective it offered. “Black and Blue”, unlike some productions with similar subject matter, incorporated monologues from the viewpoint of African American citizens without excluding the tensions faced by police officers. Instead, the scenes appealed to the audience’s emotion and called for critical thinking and reflection.
According to the mission statement provided on the company’s website, Gitana Productions is an arts and education company which provides global healing through music, dance and drama in the St. Louis community. The company, which was founded by Nadal in 1996, also aims to elevate humanitarian efforts in a way that goes beyond race and culture, and has produced a broad range of music festivals, as well as plays that touch on subjects such as Darfur, domestic violence and the struggles of immigrants living in the city.
“Bringing a special event such as ‘Black and Blue’ to campus requires a certain level of interest either through a club or sponsor,” Kays said.
It also has to have an important enough topic to fund and promote, Kays said.The
material covered in the play garnered the interest of the Improv Club, who acted as ushers, as well as faculty on campus — some of whom offered their students extra credit for attending.
The play followed a number of different characters and featured a diverse cast of local actors, including talents from Garrett Bergfeld, Jeanitta Perkins and Daniel Johnson.
With musical additions from recording artist and spoken word performer DYCE, the story centered on plotlines involving an interracial couple, a work-pressured cop, and the friendship between a senior officer and a young African American citizen. It consisted of two acts split by an intermission and had a combined total of 26 different scenes.
“[Plays such as ‘Black and Blue’ are] vital to the intellectual life of our college and campus,” said Kays.
According to the play’s description on the Gitana website, the play attempts to open up discussion and create a fuller understanding of racial conflict not only in St. Louis but across the country.
A panel on race relations immediately followed the production and featured speakers such as police officer Heather Taylor, criminal justice program coordinator Michael Hepner, and STLCC-Meramec students Kathryn Turek, Pascal Ukrebur and Brianna Hamilton.
Hepner, who is also a Park Ranger with St. Louis County, said that his son was born the day the jury verdict on the Michael Brown Jr. case was released, keeping him in the hospital and out of the aftermath that occurred in Ferguson.
“I felt out of place. I felt kind of lost not being up there with my brethren in blue,” Hepner said.
Night Watch Homicide Supervisor and St. Louis City police officer of 15 years, Heather Taylor, was also a panelist.
“As a police officer, I have friends of course who are cops,” Taylor said. “But I’m also an African American. I grew up in the inner-city…so for me, when I think about Ferguson and add my own personal opinions in there, I think that people were just fed up.”
Taylor, who has ties to both sides of the debate, believes that Michael Brown’s death acted as a catalyst for people to share their experiences and their disparities.
“Black and Blue”, which aimed to educate the audience, ended with a scene called “Treasure Box for the Future” in which the cast appealed for the eradication of racial discrimination through slow and steady changes as a society.
In order for there to be equality, the cast said, change must occur not only in the city but in the entire country.