Echoes of Identity

A while back, one of my blog posts focused on the topic of race in drama. The inspiration for that discussion were my experiences in a class that—here’s a big surprise—examined race in drama. The class? RCHUMS 390: Contemporary Plays on Race in America.

When you think of plays by American playwrights, you might think of plays such as Tony Kushner’s Angels in America or Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. These works are often considered examples of America’s greatest plays—Arthur Miller was a U of M graduate, after all—so your thought process would be understandable. What I challenge you to do, however, is to consider reading or learning about American plays by playwrights of color.

As my professor, Kate Mendeloff, was exploring contemporary plays a few years ago, she discovered that some of the most poignant and interesting works she came across were written by playwrights of color surrounding topics such as race and disparity. Inspired by the discovery, she created the class to bring attention to talented playwrights of color and their works.

Just as the title suggests, my drama class had us study contemporary plays on race in America and other works by playwrights of color. The course included reading works representing a variety of identities, discussing them in class, and acting out scenes from several of the plays. It was interesting analyzing how the characters’ racial and ethnic identities impacted their stories and interactions with other characters. Immigration, drug addiction, and intercultural relationships were some of the topics addressed by the plays in class. They also tackled a variety of time periods and issues, such as the 1967 Detroit riots (Spirit of Detroit by Mercilee Jenkins, Detroit ’67 by Dominique Morisseau).

Facing Our Truth: Ten Minute Plays on Trayvon, Race and Privilege was a collection of plays written by six diverse playwrights as a reaction to the George Zimmerman verdict, while Flint by SMTD faculty member and playwright José Casas explored the water crisis through narratives based on the people affected by the city’s tragedy.

As our final project, our class presented a public performance to feature what we learned and worked on throughout the semester. Some students presented original monologues that illustrated personal experiences on race and privilege, while others presented mashups of monologues from Lorraine Hansberry’s famous A Raisin in the Sun and Joshua Harmon’s plays titled Admissions and Bad Jews. There were also scenes excerpted from plays read in class, like Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World by Yussef El Guindi.

Overall, the class was both enjoyable and educational. I challenge you to give one of the mentioned plays a try and comment your reaction below!


Photo Credit: Robby Griswold

Check out the RC for more classes and awesome opportunities!

Why I Absolutely Adore Jane the Virgin

This week, something extremely important happened in my life. What was it, you may ask?

Jane the Virgin returned after its mid-season break this Monday night.

*screams very loudly*

I love Jane the Virgin. I don’t know how many times I can say it in a week – I said it on Monday when the show came on, I said it on Tuesday night to my friends, I said it Wednesday to a girl I had just met. I love this show.

So here’s the story. Last semester, I was scrolling through Netflix to see what they had added recently, and I saw Jane the Virgin on there. I was instantly excited. I had heard really good things about the show, even if I didn’t know anything about it. However, this meant absolutely nothing. There are about 100 things on my Netflix queue that I was “really excited about” 3, 4, 5 months ago.

So when I was having a particularly bad day, and I didn’t feel like doing any homework (although, to be honest, when do I feel like doing my homework), I laid on the couch in my apartment with the lights off and looked on Netflix for something to make me feel better. Surprisingly, I clicked on Jane and started episode 1.

Eventually, one of my roommates migrated into the living room around episode 2 or 3, and we ended up watching either 7 or 8 episodes together. And after that I was hooked. The show was funny, dramatic, serious, clever, intuitive – everything I never knew I could have in a TV show but now needed.

I began telling everyone I knew about this show. I ended up convincing my other roommate to start it, and with one roommate already done, and three currently watching it, Jane the Virgin kind of became the apartment show.

However, all good things must come to an end, and by the time winter break rolled around, we were all done with season one and had to catch up on season two, so that this week we could all watch it together. And of course, we did, and it was fantastic.

Now that we’re all caught up to the present, I should maybe talk about the actual show. There are so many good things I could say about the show, I don’t even know where to begin. As someone who truly cares about diversity (#OscarsSoWhite y’all), I tend to get excited about things that feature a diverse cast. Last semester, I was all about Quantico. Though they could do a bit better, especially in the male cast, I am in love with Priyanka Chopra and Aunjanue Ellis is queen. Last year, I was all about Fresh Off The Boat, featuring the first Asian-American cast on primetime television in 10 years, even if its been surrounded in some much-needed controversy about representation of minorities on television.

So when I started watching Jane the Virgin, I was already pleased at how well the cast was organized. Jane has very strong latina roots, and they come across loud and clear on the show, and yet because of her sunny disposition and ability to befriend anyone, the cast opens up so that it isn’t just a latin@ show, and it doesn’t claim to be one. It doesn’t stigmatize or stereotype the lives of the women on the show, and yet they clearly aren’t there for diversity’s sake. They have complex, emotional lives, and are highly relatable characters.

And not only is the show centered on the lives of latin@s, it also focuses on female relationships and even, at times, prioritizes them over male relationships. For Jane, family is everything, and all of her decisions, her thoughts, feelings, dreams – they are all closely tied to her family. And for a very, very long time, her family has been three women. Three strong, independent, resilient, vulnerable, caring women. Even when portraying Jane as the “good girl” who took care of her teenage mom at times, Xiomara herself isn’t portrayed as helpless. I mean she raised Jane for crying out loud, so that’s saying something. And while Alba may be the grandmother, and therefore the oldest out of the three, she isn’t portrayed as “outdated” or “old-fashioned” in any way. She’s portrayed as strong and caring as well, clearly showing how her traits have been passed down all the way to Jane.

I could keep going, but I think my point is clear. Both comedic and dramatic, both sad and hilarious, both fresh and funny, Jane the Virgin is dazzling. It’s complex, it’s diverse, it resists and even challenges stereotypes, and seriously, when’s the last time you saw the main character of a TV show pregnant for the majority of it? And as evidenced by my apartment, it brings people together.

So your homework this weekend, then, is to sit down and marathon Jane the Virgin. You won’t regret it.