Studio 200 aims to start race conversation

Talia Brookstein-Burke, Contributor

When senior Ayanna Sloan first read “Master Harold and the Boys,” she was determined not to direct it. After reading it a second time, however, she realized her initial reaction was mistaken. “I said to myself, ‘Ayanna, what are you doing? This show is great!’”

“Master Harold and the Boys” was the second quarter Studio 200 show this fall. Written by Athol Fugard, it is a controversial show that takes place in the Apartheid Era of South Africa. The play has only three characters, two of whom must be played by black actors.

The two black actors portray servants named Sam and Willie who have worked for the same famliy most of their life. The two men mainly serve Hally, a seventeen year old white boy. The main servant, Sam, takes on a fatherly role towards Hally: offering advice, helping with homework, and even consoling him after stressful situations. Willie, however, speaks only when spoken to and refers to Hally as “Master Harold.”

The performance stays in a single space during the entire 90-minute performance, but through descriptive monologues, the characters transport the audience to a myriad of places.

One instance of this is to the “The old Jubilee Boarding House.” Hally engages the audience as he describes, “Sixteen rooms with board and lodging, rent in advance and one week’s notice….a telephone on the right, which my Mom keeps locked because somebody is using it on the sly and not paying, around the corner into the backyard…smells coming when I pass the lavatory, then into that little passageway, first door on the right.” Without a scene change, the set has taken on an entire different appearance with a single monologue. The verbal scene changes do more than just transport the audience, however, they also aid in setting the stage for the racially charged conversations that happen throughout the show.

“The real beauty of this show is that it deals with such important things like race, which is really prevalent in today’s society, but does so in a very informal way,” Sloan said.

The show’s exploration of race is unique in that “it shows people unknowingly benefiting from white supremacy, and shows how they’re not always aware it’s there,” said Sloan. The audience sees this theme through the relationship between Hally and his servants. Hally thinks of his servants as friends and mentors, but is quick to denounce black culture, once stating, “the culture of a primitive black society includes its dancing and singing.” Instances of this continually occur, with one particularly notable instance of Hally making a joke using the N-word.

Assistant Director Eva Oney, a sophomore, said the show’s approach to race is similar to the current state of affairs in OPRF theater program. “We don’t really talk about diversity in the theater community,” she said, “and I think this is one of the first shows, besides “Crossing Austin,” that really works on that and focuses and pinpoints that issue in our community.”

The storyline was not the only thing drawing in the audience, of course, as the main event was the actors themselves. The trio bounced emotions, actions, and conversations off each other with grace and poise, all while maintaining South African accents.

One of Sloan’s goals for the show was to “get at least one person who doesn’t normally do theater” to join. Sophomore Joe Frantzen, who plays Haley, and freshman Omari Sloan, who plays Willie, both have been in shows at OPRF. Junior Sukari Holloway, however, who plays Sam, is new to the world of theater. “I was a spoken word artist before the play, but I was always interested in acting,” he said. “I just never knew how to start it, especially at OPRF.”

Holloway’s interest proved necessary after a lack of black actors at auditions. “I campaigned at Black Leaders Union, Spoken Word, basically everywhere,” Sloan said. Luckily, Holloway’s interest, matched with his talent, proved to be a perfect fit for the show.

“Master Harold and the Boys” was performed Nov. 15, 16, and 17, but Sloan said she hopes the show has an impact beyond the performances. “I think this show is going to be thought-provoking because there’s some strong language used and I think it’s going to start a conversation,” she said. “Everyone is going to have a different opinion, and I think that’s important.”