Student theater troupe produces meaningful cultural dialogue

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • November 6, 2014

At issue: Students launch Flawless Brown, the school's first theater troupe exclusively for women of color.

Our take: The troupe is a worthy student-initiated step in addressing Emerson's lack of cultural diversity.

At a college where nearly two of three students are white, opportunities for racial and ethnic minorities to tell their stories have historically been few and far between. This presents a dual problem: students at Emerson, many of whom aspire to be the world’s future storytellers, need to hear narratives from diverse cultures to gain a realistic and complex understanding of humanity. And students from those underrepresented populations are too often left feeling overlooked.

Noticing a lack of representation for women of color in the theater community, Nyla Wissa, a senior performing arts major, created her own theater troupe, Flawless Brown. The purpose of the group, according to Wissa, is to provide a safe space for voices and opportunities for women of color within the Emerson theater community. The troupe’s membership aims to produce shows that present a culture that’s not prevalent on our campus: poetry, scenes, and dance detailing their realities as women of color who must navigate their complex identities in a community largely unfamiliar with their lived experiences.

As is the case with many Emerson disciplines, opportunities within the college’s theater department are slim and competitive, which students say often leaves narratives of minority identity to fall by the wayside. Flawless Brown, however, is a student-founded step in redressing this grievance. Instead of seeking positions within the pre-existing structures of the performing arts department and associated troupes, these women have wisely created their own.

But the value of Flawless Brown extends far beyond the obvious benefits for its members. For perhaps the first time, Emerson students are getting the chance to see theater exclusively about women of color by women of color, produced by our peers. That this group exists independently of Emerson’s other multicultural organizations—including Amigos; Asian Students for Intercultural Awareness; Emerson’s Alliance for Gays, Lesbians, and Everyone; Emerson’s Black Organization with Natural Interests—should open a dialogue about the variety, or perhaps lack, of students who identify with those groups.

The campus and its students should take the initiative to support this troupe’s public platform for racial commentary that is far too often neglected. It opens up the opportunity for discussion and awareness, and a chance for those from different backgrounds to share their stories with other students who may, even in unexpected ways, identify with their challenges.

Flawless Brown is an impressive first step in addressing the lack of attention that minority narratives and experiences enjoy on a campus with such little racial diversity. But it is only a beginning, and should not be the final or only opportunity for women of color—or any underrepresented culture interested in sharing the details of their experience through performance. At an administrative level, Emerson must commit itself to identifying lapses in representation in its engrained institutional structures. A concerted effort should and must be taken before Emerson’s theater community can consider itself truly inclusive and diverse.