Rehearsals have begun for the UO’s Department of Theater Department’s most recent production, a virtual reading of “Personal History” by playwright Dominic Taylor.
The play follows the same African-American couple as they navigate several different eras spanning nearly a century. Director Stanley Coleman said that “personal history” is not just about race relations and identity politics, but reflects the history and social progression of our country from the early 19th century to the 20th century. It takes place in three parts: the first in 1903, the second in 1953 and the final in 1996. The story is surreal in that the same cast of characters is present in all three eras without aging, but with class changes. , of social position and point of view.
One of the reasons Coleman chose the script was its desirability, he said. Personal History observes that the progression of African American liberation has not been a straight line pointing upward. He referred to the increase in racial unrest in response to police brutality over the past year as related to this theme.
“I think when we look at our own history, we see that there is still quite a bit of racial discrimination and violence that is being perpetrated against people of color,” Coleman said. “We are still fighting the same things that we have fought all of our lives. “
The play came to fruition when a friend from the UO drama department approached Coleman about directing a play about diversity and race relations. Coleman brought the script for “Personal History” to the drama department faculty and they enthusiastically accepted it. Since then, faculty and students in the department have taken on the roles of actors, production managers, lighting directors and costumers.
Hudson Willett, a freshman majoring in journalism, plays Patrick Kinney, one of the show’s two white male characters. Willett said it was his first time in a play since playing Shakespeare in fifth grade. He decided to audition after being placed in an introductory theater class last term as part of his freshman interest group. Although he doesn’t have much experience, he said he was drawn to acting because of his love of cinema.
“I think right now is an important time to address the issues shown in the game,” said Willet. “I hope this will shed light on the daily struggles black people and people of color face.”
Coleman sees “personal history” as being linked to his overall mission as a director, which is to tell the stories of minorities who do not normally see themselves portrayed on stage. In 2017, Coleman co-founded the Minority Voices Theater, which is now a companion to Eugene’s Very Little Theater. Once the show is over, Coleman hopes to perform a play about Nat Turner with MVT.
Although the “personal story” is primarily about the history of race relations in the United States, Coleman says it’s not just for African Americans.
“There is an incident in the last scene that stages the idea of forgetting your story, forgetting who you are and where you’re from,” Coleman said. “And I think it’s not just for African Americans – I think it’s for everyone. Once you forget where you came from, you sort of get lost and you lose your identity.
“Personal History” will be broadcast live next month, but specific dates have to be announced. You can find more information on blogs.uoregon.edu/theatre/.