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Arts & Culture
FEBRUARY 20, 1997

By Catherine Curtis
Arts Desk Writer

The tension between Blacks and Whites in America is often a subject in public discourse, but one that is never truly resolved, with many feelings of distrust, animosity, and even hatred remaining on both sides. Fortunately there are individuals and organizations that are attempting to delve into history and discover how people of different ethnicity’s can understand, not hate each other. One such group, UC Santa Cruz's African American Theater Arts Troupe, an organization that tries to enhance the cultural climate on campus, is attempting to do just that with its current production of A Soldier's Play, which will be playing at the Louden Nelson Center Feb. 22 and 23.

"The Troupe strives to promote works of color that the community can learn from so that people can learn to embrace different cultures in America," said Don Williams, the director of A Soldier's Play. Williams, a research coordinator and lecturer at UCSC for nine years, believes the play is important because it deals with a bit of history that is not often discussed. He said that although 1.2 million Black Americans served in World War II, their role was often overlooked or ignored by White Americans and the Armed Forces in general.

Due to this slight, Williams and the Troupe make a special effort to compensate for America's perpetual oversight. At a performance of A Soldier's Play, which was presented three times last weekend at UCSC's Performing Arts Concert Hall, a special presentation was made to two members of an all-Black heavy gun battalion that was stationed in Santa Cruz during the 1940s. According to Williams, this ceremony served as a reminder that heroic things happen every day.

The Troupe not only wishes to shine a spotlight on history, but to encourage the attainment of higher education. "The primary goal of the Troupe is the scholarship fund drive. The students work towards the common goal of raising $4000," Williams said. The Troupe does this by putting all the money raised by its productions toward four scholarships of $ 1000 each.

Jerry W. Brown Jr. is a recipient of the African American Student Life Scholarship Fund and a first-year Porter student. "The scholarship is given to students involved in the arts with good academic standing," Brown said. He also said this is the first play he has been involved in and that he finds it a very intense experience.

A Soldier's Play, written by Charles Fuller, is the story of a segregated army camp in Louisiana in 1944. The story takes a harsh look at racial tension and the problems existing in the army and the general public between Whites and Blacks, without pointing a finger or giving easy answers.

"The overall idea is that people make assumptions that aren't always true," said Berhan Bayleyegn, a second-year Oakes student who plays the character Private Anthony Smalls. He said the play explores such historical topics as the role of African American men in the Jim Crow era and the relationship between the federal government and African Americans. Such prominent African Americans as Thurgood Marshall are also referred to in the play.

Williams stressed the importance of presensing the play not only on campus but also in the community, citing this as the reason .for multiple venues. He said that the Troupe wished to bring its message of understanding to as many people as possible. "We, as Americans, have to really spend some quality time with each other—in a physical way, not through a computer—to learn to support and understand each other," he said. "Folks should come together to look at racism."

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