By: Mel Dikert, Co-assistant Editor of News
On Thursday, Feb. 15, the Theatre Department put on its annual Educational Opportunity Scholars (EOS) Salon. This semester, however, it was a little bit different. The theme revolved around celebrating Black History Month through depicting two scenes and two monologues focusing on different historical rebellions that occurred as a direct result of racism. This semester’s Salon was also dedicated to beloved theatre professor Rodney M. Gilbert, who tragically passed away last semester. The EOS Salon was renamed in his honor: The Rodney M. Gilbert Memorial Salon: The Fires of Rebellion.
The show opened with Michael Williams, a high school student from Newark, performing a monologue as Nat Turner from the book The Confessions of Nat Turner, directed by Andrew Binger (‘12), who is one of the founders of the Salon. In 1831 Virginia, preacher Nat Turner lead the only successful slave rebellion in the state at the time. The particular monologue performed detailed the rebellion from Turner’s perspective after its successful execution. Williams kept steady eye contact with the audience throughout his performance, allowing his voice to resonate in the silence of the room to convey the situation’s severity and significance.
Next up was a scene from Down Neck, directed by Meyung Kim, featuring Tiffany Thompson (’20) as Loretta and Maliik Hall (’19) as Michael. Down Neck is a more recent play written by Pia Wilson. It follows the Winters family living in Newark in 1967 as they deal with the changes that occur after a rebellion against an incident of police brutality. The two performers walked into the theatre on opposite sides, looking around, seemingly searching for the other. Once they spotted each other, they immediately embraced, speaking hurriedly and fearfully about the violence, and in Michael’s case, even angrily. Thompson and Hall engaged the audience in the scene, pulling the onlookers into what was happening on stage and making us believe that the violence was occurring right outside.
The next monologue came from Twilight Los Angeles, 1992 by Anna Deavere Smith and it was directed by Cristina Martinez (’19). The play takes place in Los Angeles in 1992 and it is a compilation of interviews done by the author herself of people who lived through the rebellion that broke out in the city that year. The only set piece was a small bubble gum machine in the center of the stage and the monologue was done by Ti Leach (’21), playing the role of Bubble Gum Machine Man. Leach moved about the stage with confidence and her voice was loud and powerful as she passionately spoke of the brutalities that fueled the Los Angeles riots. “It was great to be part of the EOS Salon as well as being educated on history that shifted, shaped, and changed the world today,” Leach said when asked what her experience of performing in the Salon was like.
The final performance was a scene from Detroit ‘67 by Dominique Morisseau, also directed by Martinez. The characters were Chelle (Michelle), played by Ashley Backe (’19), and Sly (Sylvester), played by Alcides Costa (’19). The play is set during the Detroit rebellions in 1967 and follows Chelle and her brother as they struggle with and try to overcome family issues and the issues surrounding their city. Backe and Costa performed the scene with charming and serious tones, allowing the scene’s lighter moments to have their time yet keeping the dark undertones just below the surface.
The Salon ended with two speakers: Dr. Antoinette Ellis-Williams and Dr. Junius Williams. Dr. Ellis-Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, a Master’s of Public Administration and a doctorate in Public Policy. She is a professor in the Women’s and Genders studies department at New Jersey City University and teaches various courses focusing on women and diversity. Dr. Williams is an attorney, musician and educator, who is nationally recognized for his work. He has been the head of the Civil Rights and Human Rights Movements in the U.S. for many years and his life has been chronicled in the Civil Rights History Project. The two took the stage for the remainder of the time and spoke about race and diversity in the U.S., activism and standing up for what is right. They defined rebellion in their own way, talking about how even rebelling against little things can lead up and contribute to something bigger.
“The salon was fabulous!” said Chance Jones (’20). “The scenes the group chose were very versatile and they each filled their roles completely! The speakers were phenomenal and spoke only truth. I loved their definition of rebellion. Rodney would have been very proud.”
Apart from a new perspective on rebellion, audience members also left with a paper with 10 tips on how to practice activism through art. The Rodney M. Gilbert Memorial Salon was inspiring and something that will not soon be forgotten, just like Gilbert himself. There is going to be a Memorial held this coming Sunday, Feb. 25 for Gilbert.