‘Red Velvet’ tackles 19th-century racism in theater


Jacob WaringNews Editor

“Red Velvet” is a play that focuses on the life of Ira Aldridge, a 19th century African American actor who sent shockwaves through the theatre establishment of the time. Aldridge endures the stigmas and vitriol a black man would face in the 1800’s.

The play, presented by the Department of Theatre and the Crescent Players had its opening night on Feb. 28.

Red Velvet is an intense play due to the subject matters it tackles. The thespians showcased exceptional emotional range in accordance to their characters.

Theater major Kat Duffner, a sophomore, played Ellen Tree. She said the most difficult part was learning the ins and outs of her character, how she thinks, how she functions and pairing that with the fact her character lived in 1833.

“It’s a very different time for women and for actors and for people in general,” said Duffner, “so, pairing that with all the intricacies of her character is very challenging, but a lot of fun.”

For communications major, Gary Robinson Jr., a freshman, who played the younger version of Ira Aldridge, said that performing on the stage and getting prepped for a performance is not much contrast compared to his time on the SCSU football team.

“Besides the physical part. When you come when you come into the game, you’re nervous as well because you get butterflies because you care so much,” he said, “Same thing with acting, you practice for months and months and months with football practice, it helped me with this work.”

The costumes brought authenticity to the performances. The only critique would be that the costumes had a newness to them rather than articles of clothing that been worn over time. The hairstyles were ones associated with the 1800s time period.

Duffner wore a Victorian era dress that added to her own acting while also limiting her in unexpecting ways.

“[The dress] helps with the posture and the physicality of the character,” said Duffner, “It also makes it harder to breathe and it makes it harder to use all of the movement that we use.”

Various members of the cast spoke in accents. Michael Hinton was the Voice/Dialect Coach who helped each thespian perfect their accents.

“The dialect coach, really, really helped me refine it and find the breadth where my accent was lacking,” said Duffer, “That I could have a more accurate representation of his character.” The props matched the 1800’s aesthetics and help elevate the performance to another level.

The props for newspaper looked like proper broadsheets from that period. The set design was simplistic at times but that helped zero in on the performers’ individual performances.

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The stage ability to turn around on itself aided in transitioning from different time periods or different locations. It is always an impressive feat of engineering when a stage allows a smooth transition with minimal prop movement that could be distracting.

The blocking was utilized well. The way certain actions was done in front of the audience allowed specific movements to be enhance the plot. Certain examples such as deliberately turning to allow the emotion to flow over the audience or subtle hand movements added nuance to characters’ personalities.

The director of Red Velvet, Benjamin Curns, said that his attitude in regard to tackling the source material’s racism, history, art and style was acknowledging that it is ugly and nasty all round.

“I think those nasty and ugly things that are said in the show are necessary for the story, because I think to sugarcoat it or take those things out, I think is even more dangerous,” said Curns, “because you wind up then sort of suggesting to an audience that the past wasn’t as bad as some might say.”

Robinson Jr. said that tackling such subject matter was challenging but his approach was to just tackle the subjects head on.

 

“I think it was something I just took on head on because something I knew about I knew the struggle myself,” said Robinson Jr.

Many in attendance had high praise for the performance and for the cast. Media studies major, Emmanuel Asante, a sophomore, said, “I thought the play was very amazing,” Asante said. “Phenomenal acting. It was entertaining and it was heartfelt.”

Business Management major, Francisco Cortez, a junior said that the performance was amazing, that the cast gave it their all and the emotions on display were incredible.

“It was really amazing,” said Cortez, “They gave you the all. It sounded like they really from [the 1800’s].”

Photo Credit: Izzy Manzo

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