COPA students allege lack of representation

COPA students call for POC representation

Written By Mitchell Drake, Staff Writer

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On Oct. 13, the Playhouse hosted a Grand Opening Gala event. The gala featured performances by students in the Conservatory of Performing Arts (COPA) and a dinner to an audience of hundreds consisting of local and theatrical celebrities. The show was intended to showcase the talents of musical theater and dance majors to impress the public, high-profile members of theater companies and donors to the Playhouse.

While the Gala was generally well-received by its audience, the casting left some people of color in COPA feeling unrepresented. Some students started a group aimed at responding to the gala by improving representation of people of color.

Only a few black student performers were cast in the gala performance.

Tyquan White, a sophomore musical theater major and member of the group, said that all dance and musical theater students were asked to audition for shows in the gala, yet only four performers of color were cast.

“They had to have seen us,” White said.

Justin Rivers, a freshman musical theater major, commented on the placement of students of color in the gala performance. Rivers claimed that the placement of the black performers behind white performers is an act of colorism – prejudice against people with a particularly darker skin tone.

“When the audience sees the color of [the] person of color, they match their color to the performers around them and literally blends colors together – tricking the audience into believing the show is diverse,” Rivers explained. “Color should not matter in an academic, professional setting.”

White was not chosen to perform. He was required to work various positions around the Playhouse during the gala, and operated an elevator for guests. He expressed outrage at the image presented at the gala event, as “students that were white were performing, black [students] were working.”

White also expressed anger at how he was operating the elevator for actors, directors and high-profile members of the theatre community that he and other students wanted to impress and network with to gain future career contacts and experience.

“They would never have known that I auditioned,” White said.

According to White, his only real opportunity to show his talent came when he was approached by an intoxicated woman to sing in the elevator. She was the only person White had the opportunity to perform for that night.

The director of the gala performance, Eileen Grace, has not yet responded to requests for comment.

Originally just a supportive group for COPA students of color, a Facebook group called “Family: (Color People of COPA)” has evolved to correct how COPA represents racial diversity. The shift of direction occurred seemingly overnight with a Facebook post that announced the group’s future plans.

“On behalf of a number of POCs in COPA that I have spoken with in response to the misrepresentation in the Gala (many of these discussions have brought up many other incidents and issues that have been going on for quite some time now) we would like to call a meeting to discuss that lack of representation through our classes and performance opportunities,” the post began.

Nia Bourne, sophomore musical theater major and member of “Family,” had a discussion with White to share their grievances about the gala and overall lack of casting options for students of color.

“I am tired of just talking about it, and it’s only been a year and a half [since attending Point Park],” Bourne said.

Bourne explained the post spawned from their discussion, and was a call to action rather than a cry of angst.

The rest of the post detailed the first meeting would be with the student body of POCs in COPA “to discuss what the POC deserve from this program” and took place in the JVH Auditorium last Monday, Nov. 5. The Facebook group page currently has 58 members, and they’ve planned two other dates for meetings.

“No one has ever used these kinds of numbers to enforce or bring forth change,” White said.

The group said its future goals include plans to discuss more performance opportunities for students of color in all aspects of theater, campaigning for more faculty members that are open to hosting all-black musicals and overall casting of more students of color in leading roles.

They plan to express to the faculty their belief that the gala event misrepresented and disrespected students of color in its casting decisions.

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