College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences

'Southern Girls' preview: A timely setting with current social issues

Southern Girls

"Southern Girls," the newest Cal Poly Pomona theatre department production, should be taken anything but lightly.

Performances are in the University Theatre on Nov. 14-15 and 20-22 at 8 p.m., Nov. 19 at 10 a.m. for a high school matinee and Nov. 23 at 2 p.m.

Set during the Civil Rights era in a small town outside of Birmingham, Alabama, "Southern Girls," written by Sheri Bailey and Dura Temple, follows the lives of six women: Two black women, three white women, and one mixed woman.

"It's a play about these six girls that grow up together and how their lives interweave," said Linda Bisesti, theatre professor and head of acting.  "They become individuals and their beliefs are challenged and changed in that time period, because of the Civil Rights movement that started in the early 50s and took a huge step forward in 1963. It's a play that challenges us to think about race."

Bisesti was told about the play by a colleague of hers, and added it to the theatre department's 2014-15 season because she thought it was timely with current social issues. Additionally, this particular production is a female-driven show. With the exception of one production head, the director, cast and the other production heads are all women.

"I wanted to do a play that was written by a woman," said Bisesti. "We always do a play that is written by a woman every year either on the main stage or the Studio Theatre. I thought it was a really interesting play to choose because it was very timely."

As the play is based on the harsh realities of the Civil Rights era, students may find the language to be shocking.

"The 'N-word' is used repetitively on a number of occasions," said Bisesti. "It is a play about racism, intolerance and about people who are trying to find their ways as individuals and I think it challenges people's belief systems."

Although the language may be uncomfortable, it may also serve as a learning experience for students who are passionate about racial issues or who may not be aware about them. For Bisesti, she hopes it will stand as a learning experience not just for the audience, but for her student actors as well.

"I would hope it's a learning experience for students, and I hope it's a learning experience for my six actors who have to use the 'N-word'," said Bisesti. "It's not used lightly. It's not easy to use a word like that. I think that we have to respect the fact that language is a really powerful thing."

For the student actors, intense scenes and using vulgar language with conviction was not easy to do at first.

"I think in the beginning, for scenes that were really tough or really intense, I tried to be really resilient and try to not think about it," said Jasmine Mobar, a third-year theatre student. "But these scenes are there for intentions. I had to really put myself into it and it was really hard, but it's critical."

Kapri Margary, a second-year theatre student, agreed with Mobar. She believed that remembering who was telling the story was important to convey the message being told.

"It was hard for me to say certain words because it made me feel gross inside," said Margary. "I never say the N-word in the play but I still say vulgar words, But it's not me saying them, it's my character. I have to deliver the message, because it's not me telling the story. It's the character."

The actors hope that the audience will have a heightened awareness of race issues and be able to spark productive conversations about them after watching the play.

"I hope they will be able to self-examine and be able to see where they are in their lives," said Ajouraye Jefferson, a fourth-year theatre student. "A lot of times people do stuff and they don't really realize that it's wrong or that it could have hurt someone. That's where it starts: self-awareness. If we can spark that, I think that would be amazing."

Tickets for "Southern Girls" can be purchased through the theatre department's website or at the Box Office in Building 25.

Article by Bonnie Paresa Originally appeared in The Poly Post on November 10, 2014.  View original article here.