The Collegian
Friday, February 23, 2024

“Fairview”; Sparking Conversations

<p>Audience members participate in "Fairview" in Cousins Studio Theatre on Nov. 17.&nbsp;</p>

Audience members participate in "Fairview" in Cousins Studio Theatre on Nov. 17. 

The Department of Theater and Dance staged five performances of Jackie Sibblies Drury's Pulitzer-winning play "Fairview" from Nov. 16 to Nov. 19.

The production, directed by professor of theater Chuck Mike, tells the story of the Frasier family preparing to celebrate Grandma's birthday by cooking dinner, sharing wine and hiding secrets. However, what initially presents itself as a sitcom centered around a Black family unfolds into a vivid and uproarious exploration of the subtle yet harmful nature of white supremacy.

Sophomore Jeff Tsai, the play’s assistant director, said Mike described "Fairview" as "his most complex production that he has ever tackled in his entire career." 

Despite its intricacies, Mike applauded the play's genius writing, deeming it "complex and intriguing, yet phenomenally entertaining." He emphasized that the play delved into "the white gaze," a facet of racism and white supremacy rarely explored in drama.

First year Sukie Weiner, an assistant stage manager, appreciates Drury's ability to infuse humor into a script that delicately addresses racial relations. 

"I think [Drury] did an excellent job creating a funny script that actors can bring a lot of life to, yet still treats the issue of racial relations with the care it requires," she said.

Creating a conducive environment for self-expression within the cast was crucial to effectively portraying societal issues, Mike said. He emphasizes the importance of finding actors whose spirit, disposition and values align with the mission of the play.

One standout aspect of "Fairview" is Act IV, described by Tsai as a "discussion forum, inviting the audience to be a part of the theater and enact social change." Mike elaborated on this, noting that a seminal character invites white audience members onto the stage while those of color remain in their seats.

Tsai shared that this idea was inspired “because, traditionally speaking, people of color always feel like they're being put in the spotlight to explain problems of racism and even educate people who are not familiar with the issues.”

“Fairview” also includes other unique theater techniques, such as the actors using increased physicalization and heightened melodramatic expression. Mike additionally used slow motion to effectively portray a “food fight that turns violent,” he said.

The motivation behind bringing “Fairview” to the University of Richmond was not just to entertain, but to spark conversation and open mindedness within the community.

 “If we as a community are going to evolve in terms of inclusivity and equity then adequate discourse is necessary to fathom a pathway forward,” Mike said. “My hope is that our students become more aware of how they might be complicit in their daily lives, and in so doing, not only check themselves but check others.”

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He went on to explain that well over 600 people saw this play during its run, and he estimated that over 70% of them were white. He mentioned that although they were given an option to leave before the discourse, very few actually did.

Tsai similarly shared that he hopes students will be open minded after watching “Fairview.” “It can be as simple as if you are in a class and happened to be in a group project with international students, and asking them about cultural experiences and opinions,” he said. “Because when I was in my leadership class, I felt very unheard to be one of the only people of color in the classroom setting.”

To make sure self-reflection occurs within the UR, Mike stated the production team conducted a campus-wide “white gaze” survey, and these responses are to be planned to be shared with the UR administration. 

Contact lifestyle writer Emma Galgano at emma.galgano@richmond.edu

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