CS “You” Ferguson returns to campus

Alaina Bigelow,

How East Bay’s Theater Department is starting an open discussion

When George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012, the Black Lives Matter movement was born. It has since become a chapter-based, global activist movement aimed at reducing violence against Black communities.

Here at Cal State East Bay, a handful of students are attempting to embrace the ethos of the Black Lives Matter movement on the theater stage with a production of “CSU Ferguson” this month.

This show is different from past productions. Unlike plays about fake characters with fake problems, this show is spoken and relies heavily on personal experiences of its student cast members.

The phrase “Fuck you is how I feel” is repeated throughout the show by the cast members, each time with more conviction. The phrase is meant to express brutal honesty about the realities and fears faced by communities of color that are constantly under attack.

So when they stand on stage and fire their monologues, they’re being honest and open with the audience about the reality of their lives.

“There are no characters in the show,” said Van Torrey, a fourth-year theater major and performer in the show. “It’s not even a play. It’s a piece, merely spoken word. We are actually speaking real things and how we feel to the audience and to the intended audience. There is no real acting at all. The ‘acting’ you’ll see is actually portraying and telling a story.” Through this, the cast is trying to create an act of solidarity.

Throughout the show there is audience interaction. Many times, the audience is asked to put their hands in the air and keep them up as they do a call-and-response with the cast members. With their arms raised in surrender and a cry for “Don’t shoot!” there is an act of solidarity for all those who have perished in violence.

Again and again they mention people who died due to violence. They talk of “open season” all year round. How they are never safe because of who they are, what they look like and how they act in the eyes of the police.

Before the show opened, I sat in on a rehearsal with director Ann Fajilan, noted as one of the most 100 Influential Filipinas in the United States by the Filipina Women’s Network, and watched as she drilled the actors and wouldn’t let them continue until everything was perfect. From her spot in the middle of the auditorium, she caught every movement and noticed every wrong turn, every awkward movement and stumble. She repeatedly told the actors to “make it come from the heart.”

Even as the actors grumbled when they repeat a line for the fifteenth time, or missed their cue for the tenth time, Fajilan continually encouraged them stay on track with their castmates. From my vantage point beside her, it was easy to see how this whole production was a team effort, where everyone gave 100 percent of themselves through the endless hours of practice.

To keep the sense of community and rhythm of the spoken word, there are cast members on stage playing the guitar and drums. They use their instruments to keep the beats and maintain the pace of the drama on stage, as well as to mark transitions. There is even singing in Spanish, as a remembrance of those who have crossed the dangerous border between Mexico and California in hopes of finding a new life in “Los Estados Unidos.”

The issues addressed throughout the show touch on struggles faced by immigrant, LGBT and women communities. They speak out for the struggles and oppressions forced on minorities in this country and how we as Americans need to break the chains keeping us in the dark.

Not all of the play is heavy and oppressive. There will be moments of lightheartedness and laughter to take the pressure off all the sadness.

“We have a voice and we demand to be heard. This is our opportunity, so to the people that attend, your undivided and uninterrupted attention is required,” Torrey noted. “To be quite straight-forward, not all Black people are the same. Also, it isn’t all serious. There is humor in the piece, so you’ll enjoy it and get a good laugh all while taking home a great and important message. Our lives matter.”

The show closes this weekend, Nov. 19, which plays Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with a final performance on Sunday at 2 p.m.