Students staging production Friday to show experiences of people with ‘deeply melanated skin’

Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

By Tierra Carpenter

Melanin is “a dark brown to black pigment occurring in the hair, skin, and iris of the eye in people and animals,” according to the Oxford Dictionary.

It is also a focus of the Africana Theatre Lab’s latest production, “Troubles of Melanin,” which is being staged at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Moe Black Box theater in the Communications Building.

Jarvell Williams, president of the organization, said the show is a collection of short plays depicting the black experience.

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Williams, a senior from Chicago studying psychology and communication studies, said they chose to focus on the issues of people with “deeply melanated skin,” or people of color.

“Historically speaking, people with deeply melanated skin experience the most oppression,” Williams said. “These are problems that people within the group who are portraying these stories have to experience everyday.”

Williams said in this anthology they wanted to humanize black people and portray them differently than they are usually seen.

“You will see everyday human flaws. You will see everyday human pleasures and joys,” Williams said. “We feel as though, that because of that melanated skin, we have been portrayed as less than in certain areas of the world.”

Some other topics they will cover include love in the black and LGBTQ community, how someone of a darker skin tone may be treated differently by their family and allies within the fight against oppression.

“We wanted to focus on people who aren’t of color who are actively fighting the same fight we’re fighting. We wanted to highlight their struggles of being our allies,” Williams said. “There are allies out there who do deserve that recognition, and we wanted to give it to them in this production.”

Robert Foster, a senior from Dallas studying theater, plays one of those white allies.

In one of the scenes, Foster is performing a monologue about the white perspective on the issues black people face.

“It is essentially about me finding empathy, compassion for my brothers and sisters who have a different skin color than me, but in the end aren’t different from me at all,” Foster said.

Foster said being apart of the production as a non-black person has opened his eyes to the strength of people in the black community.

“I have seen resilience that amazes me,” Foster said. “You read some of these monologues, and you listen to some of these monologues, and it’s kind of like, ‘Are these people truly existent? Are there people that are actually this strong, and who have been through this and are still able to stand strong through it all?’”

One of the short plays Foster said that he sees this strength in is from the mother characters in “A Mother’s Fear.”

Daveon Burtin, the director of “Troubles of Melanin,” said that play is one of the most heartfelt in the production. She said it is about being pregnant at a young age, black mothers raising black boys, and non-black women raising black children, among other topics.

“I want to tell those stories, and tell those different stories also, because [non-black women] still have a fear of raising this black child, of raising this child with a darker skin tone, because they know the troubles of being of a darker skin tone,” Burtin, a senior from Chicago studying theater, said.

This is Burtin’s first time directing an entire production, and she said it has been an empowering experience. She said she can easily connect to a lot of the plays because of things she’s been through in her life.

The actors weren’t always able to fully connect to these scenes the same way, and Burtin said the hardest part for her has been watching them deal with the strong emotions the scenes have brought out.

“To give them a scenario or emotion to do for the scene and watch them go through it and watch them go through the heartache and heartbreak to get them to the correct place they need to get for the scene, that’s the hardest,” Burtin said. “I’m a very emotional person. I don’t want to hurt people.”

Burtin said this is the group’s last production of the semester, and they have two more in the works for next semester.

Williams suggests people arrive by 7 p.m., as no one will be allowed inside after it starts.

Tierra Carpenter can be reached at [email protected] or @tierramc_.

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