The M ichigan D aily-W eekend etc. M arch 5, 1992 Pagelillllii11 ii i 1 :
The Michigan Daily -Weekend etc.
Ebony is about 17yearsold; she's
an intelligent young woman I met
because of her friendship with my
younger sister. What makes Ebony
pertinent to this column is not her
age in years, but her wisdom which
has taught me a thing or two about
About a month ago, my mother
and I were talking about Ernest
Dickerson's film Juice, which ex-
ploits the lives of Black teenagers
in the violent inner cities. She told
me that a scene, wherein a young
Black man turns agun on his friend
and kills him, brought Ebony to
tears in the theater.
My mother reminded me that
Ebony'ssisterhad been killed about
a year ago, when two young boys
callously fired guns into a house.
We concluded that films like
Juice aren't worth their exploita-
tion of violent imagery. But that
wasn't the end of my lessons.
A week ago, my sister, Ebony
and I sat at the couch in our living
room watching rap videos when
Scarface's riotous "A Minute To
Pray and a Second To Die" came
on. I didn't turn away from the
video but sat there and rappedalong
with it. Ebony left the room.
My sister then reminded me of
That's when I figured out what's
wrong with Black culture.
We Black people continue to
accept destructive images of our-
selves here in America. Our stories
are crudely commodified away by
rich executives, almost as if sla-
very had neverbeen outlawed. The
negative messages that we eagerly
consume, whether in music, film,
television or writing, usually reach
us because a group of white pro-
ducers would profit from them.
But we still accept them.
While Black artists in Africa
are so far ahead of us that they
make their culture and the people's
struggle for liberation one in the
same, here in America we become
prostitutes. We continually fail to
learn the lessons of history.
Throughout the 1800s, up
through John Ford's renowned
1956 film The Searchers and long
afterward, Hollywood amassed
profits from "cowboy" films. These
films served the purpose of deni-
grating Native Americans and at-
tempting to justify their genocide
by white people.
And now in the '90s, we have
the same kind of exploitation in
multi -media,justifying theoppres-
sion and genocide of Black people;
the biggest difference between us
and the Native Americans being
that Black people are profiting from
these works and consuming them.
This must be stopped.
Black artists must be pressured
by their true audience, the Black
masses, to stop exploiting us for
white money. Black directors like
Dickerson and Mario Van Peebles
must be held accountable if they
continue shooting Black people for
As the lyrics of Public Enemy
tell us, "We've got to keep our-
selves in check."
Black people, all of us, need to
think before we plunk down the
ntvt tatn-rnl1r hill fnr that ¢ann-
s there any way to sum
up 75 years of any
thing? Through the De
pression, the rebellion
of the sixties, the
theater has been an pre
vailing outlet. Children
staging puppet she- -
grow to be pro's on Broadway. But
how many laypersons are aware of
the education that lies behind "act-
In 1916 the magic of student the-
ater was brought to the stage for the
first time as part of the University
curriculum. This was by no means the
start of student interest in theater, but
it was the beginning of the trek toward
what the department is today.
Prior to 1916 when Servant in the
House , the first student show pro-
duced as an outcome of a class, was
presented, students found an outlet
for their talents by putting on shows
without formal involvement from the
"Studentshave always been deeply
involved in theater long before the
advent of a course for credit," said
Tom Loewe, public relations director
for University Productions.
Opera was a prevalent form of
liberating performance for students.
The Michigan Union was built with
money raised by students who wrote,
produced and performed operas.
These musical performances, starring
all male casts, became so popular that
theyeven toured all around the coun-
During the days of the Speech
Department, which was started by
Thomas Clarkson Trueblood (after
whom the Trueblood Theatre in the
Frieze Building is named), plays were
produced informally by self-moti-
vated students. It wasn't until Richard
Hollister offered a course in Play Pro-
duction that theater began to catch on
as an academic pursuit, andServant in
the House was the final product this
Under the direction of Hollister,
and Theater professors Valentine
Windt, William Halstead and many
others, the theater program developed
into a thriving department of its own.
By the time the '30s came
around, the theater department
was producing several shows
a season. Often profession-
*e brought in to supplement the partment, causing a series of highs
m, especially in the summer. and lows. According to Bender, after
t the time I came here," said World War II and on through the
ender, who was a student in 1960s, the focus of the department
nd became a professor emeri- shifted from undergraduate work to-
y years later, "the real strength ward production and graduate work.
department was in the summer, Bender feels that during this time,
e it (the University) was one of the average stu-
v theater programs in the coun-,
hat t ec'
s and e
rogram by eSSIC
.And, as a
in the sum-
ne they liter-
would have CV'
... as N
BFA program was initiated. The BFA
degree was started to provide more
specialized training in theater. Stu-
dents can take classes in both perfor-
mance and production, and then can
concentrate in either area as they
progress through the program. Upon
graduating, this degree provides a stu-
dent with more technical training than
the original BA degree, which con-
centrates more on liberal arts.
Controversy surrounded the in-
stitution of the BFA. The BA degree
is still given through LSA, though
the BFA students get more atten-
tion from the theater department
because it is a new program. The
point of contention lies in the
fact that the School of Music is
so performance-oriented, and
to new students being re-
cruited, the BFA program is
more desirable, drawing stu-
dents away from the LSA
Many believe that new
students shouldn't focus
their studies so early. "I
think that BFA pro-
grains are a little bit
dangerous in general
because they bring in
people who are 18.
You primarily work
on acting and de-
G velop your skills
and crafts there,
but I think there
are other studies
that are just as
Kevin Humbert, a senior
working toward a BA in theater.
"There are a lot of things that need
to be studied," suggested Humbert,
such as the plays of Shakespeare and
Ibsen. "My fear is that you're only
working on a craft, without knowing
what you find important and what you
have to say with your art." he con-
The balance between maintaining
the BA program alongside the BFA
program has not yet been reached.
According to Richard Klautsch, the
BFA is "perceived to be an open-door
program" in that they let in people to
boostenrollment without considering
the individual's future. For instance,
a student may be qualified for the
present, but not equipped to handle
professional theater, post-program.
Klautsch felt that overall, the depart-
mentneeds to be more selective about
who is admitted.
"With the new BFA program in
theater, I think that's going to grab a
lot of people who would be studying
through a BA degree," said Humbert.
"So I think it's pulling a lot of people
away who would like to be actors, but
would like to study other things also
because they're being told, maybe not
out front, that a BFA program is the
way to study theater and get into the
In the long run, what matters most
is not what path you took, but who
was teaching the craft. Since the early
glory days of Windt and Hollister,
many professors have builtupa strong
and varied department. "I think
they've got the right mix of people
there now," said Jeff Daniels, a pro-
fessional film actor who founded the
Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea and is
an adjunct professor at the Univer-
Klautsch agrees. "The diversity
and multiplicity of the faculty is a
good thing because we challenge each
other on many levels," he said.
For the past 75 years the theater
department has endeavored to pro-
duce well-rounded students prepared
for a career in theater. People like
Gilda Radner, James Earl Jones and
Christine Lahti have gone on to have
successful careers on stage, while
other alumni have excelled behind
the scenes in areas such as costume
design or direction.
Most importantly - the depart-
ment has undergone change and sur-
vived. Today's theater department still
faces changes through a difficult time
of statewide financial insecurity for
all the arts, as well as with the chal-
lenge of the new BFA program con-
tinually being developed and refined.
But the general outlook seems posi-
"I hope that people begin to recon-
sider that theater is an important en-
deavor. It's a very important means of
communication," said Klautsch. "I 's
an outlet for people to share their
most important dreams."
Erik Fredricksen, chair of
the department said it best;
"Places like U of M will be
where theater artists of the
21stcentury will be look-
ing to go."
dent was overlooked.
The department's rockiest stretch
of the road was probably its transfer
from LSA to the School of Music.
This is a relatively recent transition,
accomplished within the last decade.
With this move came several struc-
tural changes. "I think that since the
transfer the dean of the School of
Music has been very skillful in the
way cuts were made and restorations
made along the way," said Bender.
"As a result, as I see it, there is now a
very fine program that is aimed to a
great extent towards the undergradu-
The program as it is today took
several years to evolve. The graduate
program was disbanded, and a new
several hundred students in the the-
ater production courses."
But the 75 year ride has not always
been smooth. Administrative diffi-
culties have periodically hit the de-