Wayne State University’s Production of The Colored Museum recognizes both progress and enduring issues
Wayne State University’s production of “The Colored Museum” at the Hilberry Theatre began Black History month with an exploration of African-American identity and culture. On Feb. 16, the director and cast offered an opportunity to discuss these topics at the talk‐back after the performance.
The locations and times of the play’s scenes were communicated by projected images on a background of panels which moved in order to allow the cast to enter and exit scenes. The projections, designed by Assistant Professor Sarah Pearline included African-American music artists, Harlem in the 1980s, and Civil Rights Movement protests.
During the Feb. 16 talk‐back, actors said they had received a variety of responses from audiences, including both laughs and gasps during controversial moments in the show.
“I am loving my cast … all of them are wonderful, they’re hardworking creative artists,” said director Billicia Hines, assistant professor and director of the Black Theatre Program. Hines said her cast, comprised mostly of graduate students, had a four-week rehearsal process, which began at the end of December 2017. Hines said the show uses satire to portray sensitive material, like slavery, in a way the audience can receive more easily.
“My ancestors were enslaved … It’s my history,” Hines said.
“Black history is American history, and they try to separate it.” She stated that she would like to see more African-American history taught in schools and expressed the need for a space in which to discuss the topic of race. “Theater is that form where we can come together with all races and discuss things.”
Graduate Student and cast member Breayare Tender said the show is still relevant, although it was written in 1986 by George C. Wolfe.
“A lot of the things it talks about have not changed,” said Tender.
She said issues confronting African-Americans like the Civil Rights Movement are not over, but have new “faces,” like Black Lives Matter. She also recognized progress on subjects the show highlights, “The workplace is starting to allow African-Americans to wear their hair naturally to work … [they] used to be forced to perm their hair and do damaging things to it in order to be considered appropriately being groomed.”
Tender said she saw the show’s message as “a message to Americans overall, not just African-Americans,” about being inspired to move progressively forward by recognizing negative parts of history instead of throwing them away.
Ernest Bently is a member of the Actors’ Equity Union as well as a graduate student at WSU. Bently’s character, Miss Roj is in a club called “The Bottomless Pit” during her monologue about her experiences as a “Snap Queen.” Miss Roj describes herself as an “extraterrestrial …. placed on this earth to study the life habits of a deteriorating society.” Bently said he worked to feel that “alienation,” finding inspiration for the role watching “Paris Is Burning,” a movie chronicling New York’s drag scene in the 1980s.