Theatre department launches Voices Included for People of Color Theatre

The+Light+will+premiere+April+2022.

Photo by Courtesy VIP Theatre

“The Light” will premiere April 2022.

This year, Marquette’s theater department is launching Voices Included for People of Color Theatre. The VIP Theatre was created to provide an opportunity to minorities and people of color involved in the theater industry.

A study done by the Asian American Performers Action Coalition concluded that in the 2018-2019 season only 41.4% of actors on New York City stages were people of color. The VIP Theatre has been created to increase diversity onstage within Marquette University.

Stephen Hudson-Mairet professor in the College of Communication and associate professor of digital media and performing arts submitted a proposal for this new theater and received the university’s Explorer Challenge Grant which he used to jumpstart the program. 

“I think it’s critical that Marquette has an opportunity for people of color to have both projects that are for people of color but also have opportunities within the theater program,” Hudson-Mairet said when explaining the theater.

VIP Theatre seeks to amplify the presence of people of color within theater, and their mission statement states that they desire to “provide performance and career building opportunities for the Marquette and Milwaukee communities while also providing role models of professional artists of color for our students and alumni.”

The first play from the VIP Theatre will be “The Light.” This show features only two actors; Martilia Marechal, a junior in the College of Communication, as Genesis and Joseph Brown Jr., a junior in the College of Communication, as Rashad. Genesis and Rashad are romantic partners and the play takes place on the night of their engagement, but things end up going awry.

“[The engagement] gets derailed when they spark up a conversation about one of Rashad’s favorite artists who has a problematic past,” Brown said. “It spirals into this whole big argument … that stems from separating the artist from the art.”

While the show was set to begin performances at the end of January, they have now been pushed to later in the semester due to concerns about COVID-19. The cast and crew are hoping to perform April 22-24 and 27-30.

Most of the play’s cast, crew and production staff identify as people of color. The students are taking this show as an opportunity to put their message out there.

I do think that this is a good thing we are integrating into the theater because I do think that not only should we expose ourselves to shows that are written and acted by a diverse set of people, but I also think these stories are important because they very much relate to today and I think that we can start good conversations,” Marechal said.  

The director, Marti Gobel, who also identifies as a person of color, said she has done her best to make sure the cast and crew feel appreciated and accepted for everything they do.

With her, the students felt welcomed, and they trust her to help them create a show they can be proud of, said Nathan Berry, a sophomore in the College of Communication and co-stage manager of “The Light.”

“We had a good bonding moment in one of the last rehearsals where we just showed pictures of family and just laughed and cracked a lot of jokes. We shared a lot of personal stories for some nice team bonding,” Berry said. 

Gobel has an extensive background in the industry, she has both acted and directed for Next Act Theatre, Renaissance Theatreworks, Forward Theatre and Milwaukee Chamber Theatre. Gobel has also directed three previous shows with the Marquette Theatre program. Her experience means she knows the importance of having a supportive environment to work in while also pushing others toward high goals.

“I think that (support and appreciation) comes from being in a room of people like you, people that look like you, people that want to see you thrive, and how can we not in a place like that?” Marechal said.

All the support has given the students high hopes for the show, and they want to reach as many people as they can with a range of different dreams. 

Brown said he wants to inspire change within the theater industry. 

“I hope it brings interest to minority-told stories,” Brown said. “I think VIP is a very good step in the right direction to integrating the theater world because I think there is a lot of gatekeeping in the entertainment industry in general, and I think piquing interest in stories like these are how we are going make sure we get to that overall goal of having stories like these be told at a mainstream level.” 

Carlos Alba, a junior in the College of Education and co-stage manager of “The Light,” said he wants to shed light on overlooked individuals. 

“The hope for this show that I have is for people to realize and see how talented the underappreciated people are … because I feel so often like we are always just pushed to the side or doing things that aren’t shown as much,” Alba said. 

The cast and crew ask that the audience comes in with a willingness to listen to their message. 

“I hope that everyone who sees (the show) comes into it with an open mind and open heart and actually gets the awareness it’s trying to push onto the audience, and that they walk away from it taking away a new perspective,” Berry said. 

The later performance dates are not fully set, but stay updated with VIP Theatre and the work they are doing within Milwaukee and the Marquette community by following @mutheatre on Instagram.

This story was written by Izzy Fonfara Drewel. She can be reached at [email protected]