Marquette’s VIP Theatre program strives to give voice and opportunities to students of color.
Ten years ago, Stephen Hudson-Mairet, professor of digital media and performing arts and then department chair, had a group of students of color in his office. They had an honest question for him, one that he didn’t have a good answer to at the time.
“Where are the opportunities for us?” they asked.
Hudson-Mairet says that question first led to some new productions within the theatre seasons. “But they felt ‘one-off’ and not programmatically intentional,” he says. This prompted planning and grant applications in order to “give our students a consistent opportunity to share their stories and to diversify the voices we share on stage at Marquette.”
This past spring semester, the Voices Included for People of Color Theatre program, also known as VIP, held its inaugural show, a production of Loy A. Webb’s The Light. The production was carried out with a $25,000 grant from the university, Hudson-Mairet says.
The goal of the program is to give students a chance to work with professionals of color in the industry and act out plays that touch on themes important to their communities.
“I think it’s critical that any artist is able to see themselves and hear themselves on the stage,” Hudson-Mairet says.
The Light was no exception. The one-act play revolves around Genesis and Rashad, a young Black couple on the night of their engagement who get into a heated debate on several social issues spurred by the subject of a controversial rapper.
Performing arts student Martilia Marechal got a shot at her first lead dramatic role as Genesis after mostly starring in musicals. Being able to connect with the audience was the most rewarding part of the experience, she says, especially considering the play’s relevant subject matter.
“The biggest takeaway for me was when I could talk to people after the show and they were crying or something really just connected with them,” Marechal says. “I think that’s why this play was so beautiful.”
For student Joseph Brown, who transferred into the theatre program after studying nursing, the exposure goes a long way. He starred as Rashad in his first stage play. Brown says the play gave him a chance to develop his skills as an actor, an opportunity he might not have had before.
“Being sprung into one of those lead roles was super challenging, but in a great way,” Brown says. “It allowed me to push myself further and really envelop myself into the character and hone my skills in a way that I wasn’t able to previously.”Hudson-Mairet is encouraged by the budding program. “We have provided a wider set of opportunities for all of our students. That’s a win-win for everybody.”