Confronting campus issues from the stage

September 21, 2016
Confronting campus issues from the stage

When Professor Douglas asked students in his course “The Emergence of an Early American Identity” to examine a piece of Revolutionary War-era art, the first response came from Oliver, who described the image as “one Indian sitting on a box by himself.”

His classmate Kia rolled her eyes. “I think it’s weird that we’re calling Native Americans Indians,” she said.

The encounter — and the class — were imagined, a theatrical sketch created by the Bok Center Players, a Harvard-based ensemble that uses the stage to address challenging topics such as race, gender, and identity.

“Material-wise, we want to be responsive to what’s happening on campus right now — where the real tension areas are — so we can begin or continue to effect dialogue and, hopefully, begin to act,” said Mara Sidmore, artistic director for Applied Theatre Practice at the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. “The Bok Players are a means of having those hard conversations in a way that allows for a variety of perspectives to be voiced and heard in a safe environment.”

The Players launched in 2007 as a way of addressing issues of campus diversity, specifically around gender disparity in the natural sciences. The ensemble has grown from six performers to 12, and is made up of professional actors and grad students, with undergrads often playing behind-the-scenes roles.

“The mix is very important to me,” said Sidmore. “We need to be learning from one another — academics learning about the craft of theater, actors learning about life in academia from those who are living it. That firsthand perspective is extremely important.”