BY Aarun Lazenbv
Theater Director Don Williams sat on a couch, a prop for his latest production. He squinted through the house lights out at an empty theater. "Come Friday, I hope to look out and see this place filled with people of all creeds and colors," he said, pointing from the stage at the neat blue chairs arranged across the amphitheater. "Chicanos, African-Americans, Whites, everybody."
Feb. 9 will be opening night for "Tambourines to Glory," the latest production from William's African American Theater Arts Troupe (AATAT), an acting group which seeks to provide a stage for works by African-American authors. "Tambourines," written by Langston Hughes and first produced in 1963, tells the story of two women whose relationship with the devil incarnate complicates their vision to start a church in their community.
This production marks AATAT's fifth season with Williams at the helm. When he founded the group in the Spring of 1989, Williams said he saw it as a meeting place for the small percentage of African American student at UC Santa Cruz. He said many black students come to school in Santa Cruz and find themselves lost in a sea of white faces. The AATAT provides a space for African American students to come together and see themselves reflected in their surroundings. "The troupe takes a big bite out of the isolation that comes with being here," Williams said.
This isolated feeling is especially true of the acting environment provided in Santa Cruz. Mary-Kay Gamel, a professor in the Theater Arts Department, said there is an obvious lack of students of color in the theater arts program, attributing this to the realities of economic oppression. "Certainly if I was the first in my family to get a degree, I would be looking at computer science or economics," Gamel said.
"One thing we [the theater arts Department] needs to do is diversify our faculty," Gamel continued.
Aron Coleite, Senior and founder of the Oakes Acting Troupe, a group which explores issues of race and identity in its productions said he felt that William's presence in the Theater Arts department was a step towards this diversification. "Dan works in Theater Arts and his influence is felt," Coleite said. "He is very passionate about his work, and with great passion you produce great work."
In addition to providing a place for black students to see them selves represented on campus, Williams said he sees the AATAT as an important form of recruitment for the campus. He said African American students hear about the group and become more interested in attending UCSC. "This is definitely a way to bring more diversity to this campus," Williams said.
Williams also stressed the troupe's goal to bring together members of all communities. He reminisced about his first performance and the range of people who turned out. "To see people of all races enjoy themselves was a tremendous gift," he said. "I was really proud to be a part of that."
"Tambourines to Glory" will show at the UCSC PerformingArts Theater on Feb. 9 and 10 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $9 for general admission, and $6for students. Tickets are available at the UCSC Ticket office and at the door on the night of the event. For more information call 459-2159.
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