Collidescope 2.0 Brings Issues of Racism to Center Stage
By Mary Margaret Hogan | Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Mary Margaret Hogan
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
On March 14th, the UMass Theater Department began its run of Collidescope 2.0: Adventures in Pre- Post-Racial America, created and directed by Ping Chong and Talvin Wilks. The pair kicked off their tech week by speaking at a Rand Lecture moderated by Priscilla Page and answered questions regarding the origin of their creative journeys and their collaboration, as well as their Art, Legacy, and Community project investigating local African-American history that lead to the creation of Collidescope 2.0.
Ping Chong is an internationally-known developer in the use of media in theater; he has also been recognized for his pieces surrounding historical issues and his creation of space on stage for marginalized voices and accounts. Chong has brought his work to theaters and festivals around the world, including the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the Singapore Festival, among many others. As creator of the performance series Undesirable Elements, Chong allowed real people to take the stage with true stories of their cultural experiences as they distinguish their identity. Talvin Wilks has been involved in ten productions of this series, filling various creative positions. As a noted playwright, director, and dramaturg, Wilks has worked with Camille A. Brown and Dancers on Mr. Tol E. RAnCE and Black Girl: Linguistic Play and also provided his talent in Carmen de Lavalade’s As I Remember It as well as The Owl Answers by Adrienne Kennedy for Penumbra Theater (Minneapolis).
Collidescope 2.0 opens with the ensemble entering the stage in one singular line, robotically moving in complete synchronization. The costumes follow the theme of uniformity as all members wear a grey jumpsuit in front of the entirely white, geometric set. The neutral stage doesn’t stay white for long as the white set is transformed with a series of exquisite projections (known as Ping Chong’s specialty) creating the illusion of time travel throughout the performance. One cast member falls out of line, walks to center stage, raises their hand and falls; dropping a bag of skittles. Two others walk out with a body bag; it is the 2012 crime scene of Trayvon Martin. An alien-like voiceover describes that the body has been left lying on the street for six hours and now shows clear signs of rigor mortis. The scene suddenly shifts from the 21st century to a meeting of slaves in 1775 reading Patrick Henry’s quote, “give me liberty or give me death.” It is their time to decide if this “liberty” will be granted to them if they join the fight against the redcoats.
The show continues on in a non-linear depiction of African-American history and the struggles to defy racism. From the creation of our country, to the Civil War, to our current day, Chong and Wilks exemplify the fallacy of the post-racialized society. Actress Ellen Keith portrays Emily Dickinson writing a letter regarding the mistrial and mistreatment of Henry Jackson for “kidnapping” his half-sister from a house and preventing her from being sold as a slave. The community of Amherst makes its mark again in the timeline of Collidescope 2.0 when several UMass Amherst cases of harassment and violence rooted in racism are featured. The ensemble chants the list of the public demands to eradicate the possibilities of hate-crimes while a voice echoes, “Racist incidents are uncommon on this campus.”
Collidescope 2.0 allows the audience to see all forms of racism and oppression experienced firsthand by the actors onstage, whether they are experiencing it themselves or weaponizing prejudices. Depicting victims of unjustified arrests, lynchings, and shootings, as Chong’s previous works also showcase, this show gives voices to the voiceless. Giving detailed accounts of the injustices toward African-Americans and the laborious work it takes to make strides to complete progress, Collidescope 2.0: Adventures in Pre- Post-Racial America demonstrates the horrifyingly superficial concept of “race” in our society and investigates how our world has fabricated such value in one’s skin color. The show opened with a half-price preview at 7:30 PM on 4/14/16. Other show dates include 4/16/16, 4/20/16-4/23/16 at 7:30 PM as well as 4/23/16 at 2:00 PM and a school matinee at 10 AM on April 15, 2016.
Photo by Jon Crispin