By Leslie Howard
We live in a world of conflict and infinite perspectives. Layers, strife, questions, and socially prevalent connections catalyze essential yet difficult dialogs in We Are Proud to Present a Presentation about the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, From the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915, written by Jackie Sibblies Drury in 2012.
The play, performed by a cast from the Southwest Minnesota State University offered an intimate performance rich with ambiguity and layer upon layer of social contextualization and provoking parallelisms pertaining to the human condition and overall experience.
“We Are Proud to Present…” touched on a wide array of race and gender-related topics through waves of tension and limited comments. However, many of the topics and concerns posed in the play’s dialog, never seemed to come to fruition through the plot. The characters made comments, and began topics but never followed through with a discussion or explanation of the problem. Instead, the characters became mad and the topic changed. There were also many problematic yet interesting off-handed comments specifically pertaining to the “white woman” that grabbed audience members but were never touched again. The actors’ reactions to various problematic statements and actions spoke louder than the written dialog. That being said, the lack of discussion and the continuing cycle of anger molds what is possibly the play’s strongest statement- Society has trouble discussing uncomfortable topics. The 90-minute play seemed to be a warm up for the imperative discussion between the cast, production team and audience that directly followed the show.
From an academic standpoint, “We Are Proud to Present…” epitomizes the “process vs. product” question, which is deeply rooted in the core of educational theatre. What happens when you take six actors with limited performance experience and throw them into a world of challenging themes and complicated relationships that could challenge the most seasoned actors? The audience sees a performance, which is raw by numerous definitions. But again, to dissect the purpose of educational theatre, are the more important questions: what did the cast, crew and production team learn from working on this show? What kind of bonds did they form? and How did they develop as people? These are questions, which transcend the thought that theatre is just meant to entertain the audience.
The strengths of “We are Proud to Present…” came in the form of the incredibly interesting direction of Professor Nadine Schmidt and detailed stage directions from the playwright. Sections of the play called for percussive elements, organized chaos and organic… but occasionally overly theatrical blocking. Moments of physicality, specifically in the final third of the production, created enthralling and moderately conflicting moments for audience members.
While the script of “We Are Proud to Present…” seemed underdeveloped, it left audiences wanting more, examining their own cultural identities and searching for answers to questions the script did not flesh out. By catalyzing this search, “We Are Proud to Present…” achieved its goal of making people talk about the difficult and arguably uncomfortable subjects which have swept through the United States for generations.
“We Are Proud to Present…” Team
Playwright: Jackie Sibblies Drury
Director: Nadine Schmidt
Scenic, Lighting and Sound Designer: Mike Lenz
Costume Designer: Payton Shively
Stage manager- Turi Jystad
Actor 6/Black Woman
Actor 1/ White Man
Actor 2/Black Man
Actor 3/Another White Man
Actor 4/ Another Black Man