May 25, 2020 is a day that will live in infamy as the day of George Floyd’s murder. What we didn’t know then in our grief was that that day would also be the catalyst for many people saying “no more” for good to many forms of racial injustice throughout the United States. One of the effects of that catalyst is the play being staged by Northwestern this week, Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, directed by Dr. Robert Hubbard.
Sweat takes place in the years of 2000 and 2008, years that both were heavily impacted by the economic fluctuations and crises that took place in the United States. It follows a group of friends who work at a steel mill who get affected in various ways by rumors, promotions and racial tensions. Friendships crack and ties break as changes occur within the workplace and their world of Reading, Pennsylvania.
The play calls for a racially diverse cast. NWC’s theatre department would not be able to put on this play with the existing members of the department, since most students regularly involved in the productions and program are white or Caucasian.
Hubbard said, “We understand these portrayals as limited and inadequate depictions of Christ’s authentic body. Unfortunately, a similar lack of diversity plagues many small theater programs at liberal arts colleges, especially in rural areas.”
So the theatre department reached out to the campus Intercultural Development Office when the play season of 2020-2021 was announced to seek out students who would be willing to help tell the story. As a result, Sweat contains one of the most diverse casts ever assembled to perform in NWC’s theatre department.
“Our prayer is that the gifted performers you see will continue to define Northwestern’s Ensemble for years to come,” said Hubbard.
Hubbard isn’t the only one excited to have this story told. Everyone involved, from assistant director to those hanging lights for it, is itching to have people see the final product.
Ryan Altman, junior theatre major and assistant director on the project, said, “I strongly believe that educating ourselves about other people and their stories is extremely important, and this production is a wonderful opportunity.”
Recently, plays staged by the theatre department take place in the 20th century or before. Sweat is the first play in a while done by the department that takes its stand in a very recent real-world event, along with taking on the very real world issue of racism and racial tensions.
Along with being the first play in a while to take on such a strong subject matter head on, it also brings many new faces into the theatre department with the alliance of NWC’s Intercultural Development Office. Sophonise Nielson, a freshman music major, is one of those newcomers. She plays the character of Cynthia, a woman who receives much of the brunt of the racial tensions between the characters.
“This has been a great experience to ‘live’ in someone else’s shoes for a while, so to speak, but also realize that we are a lot of the same people.” Nielson said. “It is a good thing to put this play on now because we need to be reminded that at the end of the day, we are all we have, and we need to have each other’s backs.”
The play will be performed in a Reader’s Theatre format in order for the performers and the audience to focus on the words of the play, as well as giving the performers the ability to take off their masks when speaking. It is taking place Feb. 18-20, at 7:30 p.m. in the Proscenium Theatre.