The Many Voices Project is a play-reading series that Assistant Professor of Theatre Richard Perez and the Hope College Theatre Department have launched in cooperation with the Center for Diversity and Inclusion.  Over the course of this academic year, four plays representing culturally diverse characters and concerns will be presented as concert readings:  Fade by Tanya Saracho on September 25, Detroit ’67 by Dominique Morisseau on October 16, Smart People by Lydia R. Diamond on March 5, 2021, and Exit Strategy by Ike Holler on April 9, 2021.

Professor Perez answered a number of questions about the project through an email exchange with Dr. Daina Robins, Director of Theatre. 

Dr. Daina Robins, left; Professor Richard Perez, right

What is the Many Voices Project?

It is a concert play-reading series inspired by a need – a need to expand the repertoire of stories told on our American stages. While Hope College’s Theatre Department has always strived to be an inclusive body, we feel the time has come to be even more intentional in our efforts to support underrepresented voices. Those voices include but are not limited to — African American, Latinx, American Indian, Asian American, persons with disabilities, women, and the LGBTQ communities. If we are to become the just and equitable society that so many of us long for, then we feel we must create space for every voice to be heard and honored. 

What led you to initiate this project?

My colleagues have long known of my professional associations with theatres of color and organizations committed to advocacy for underrepresented artists. While having a conversation last semester with Theatre Department Chair Michelle Bombe, she mentioned that I might consider starting a reading series highlighting more diverse playwrights here on campus. Coincidentally, I had already been working with a local theatre company committed to this kind of work, so it seemed like a natural progression to bring more of that work to Hope.

What do you hope to accomplish with it?

  1. Broaden the appeal of the Theatre Department to students who don’t presently feel represented by our season selections. 
  2. Attract more students of color and underrepresented populations on campus to audition for productions at Hope. 
  3. Introduce our community to more diverse stories and world views.

What will be the biggest challenges you anticipate in producing these play readings?

I think initially casting may be a challenge. Traditionally, getting actors of color to audition for Theatre Department productions has been tough. But then again, I have heard from those very students that they are not interested in plays that don’t really represent their experiences. So, it will be important for us to look outside the traditional ways of casting.

The hope is that as we establish a reputation for being more inclusive, the interest in the department will increase. But the onus has to be on us to make sure that we are not only offering this reading series but begin programming fully staged productions with more diverse roles. 

Like any new theatrical venture, I also think finding our audience will take time. Being that these readings will initially be online, adds to the challenge. But I’m confident that once word spreads about the nature of the work and the diversity of the material, our audience will grow exponentially. 

What do you most look forward to regarding these readings?

I’m looking forward to introducing our audience to a new generation of extraordinary playwrights. Their creative voices are as diverse as their cultural backgrounds and the themes they are writing about couldn’t be more relevant. 

I am also excited about making theatre more accessible to a wider audience. I think some people feel theatre is elitist. I want to dismantle that assumption and make this art form accessible to everyone.

The plays you have chosen at times contain quite explicit language, language that we use carefully, sparingly when we produce full theatre productions in the department.  Why is this language necessary, crucial, vital to these plays?

We deliberately chose stories representing a wide range of characters from different socio-economic backgrounds. While some of these characters may at times use explicit language, it is authentic to that community’s experience. If we were to portray only the segments of society that speak in an eloquent and agreeable vernacular, it would undermine the very mission of the Many Voices Project, which is to expand the stories we see on American stages.

“I am also excited about making theatre more accessible to a wider audience. I think some people feel theatre is elitist. I want to dismantle that assumption and make this art form accessible to everyone.”

Who will the readers be — and how might someone interested in participating as a reader join the project?

The readers will be our students, faculty, and actors who are appropriate for the roles. I am absolutely committed to making sure that the characters of every role are filled with an appropriate body.

If someone on campus wants to get involved with the project, I encourage them to contact me at perez@hope.edu. No experience necessary.

How will audiences view these readings?  In person — or via Zoom?  How will they find out how to “attend” the readings?  Will you charge admission or require pre-registration for audience members? 

Because of Covid-19 the initial reading will be online via Zoom.  The readings will be free of charge but pre-registration will be necessary.  A QR link for registration will be included on posters and social media.  Below is the registration link for Fade, the first play-reading in the series. . 

Will you hold post-reading discussions with the audience after these readings?  If so, how will these be structured? 

I will moderate the post-performance discussions. After each reading, we will open up questions to our audience who can post their inquiries in the chat function of the platform. Depending on the number of audience members, we may be able at times to use the “raise your hand” feature on the platform and begin conversations that way as well. Ultimately, I look forward to lively conversations and audience reactions to these compelling plays.

Don’t miss the first reading — Fade by Tanya Saracho, Friday, September 25, 2020, 7 p.m.

The script publisher describes the play’s action:  “When Lucia, a Mexican-born novelist, gets her first TV writing job, she feels a bit out of place on the white male-dominated set.  Lucia quickly becomes friends with the only other Latino around, a janitor named Abel.  As Abel shares his stories with Lucia, similar plots begin to find their way into the TV scripts that Lucia writes.”

Register for the link to Fade

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