Now That’s Class: Arnold Does it All

Amy Wolper

The success of last week’s Urban Theater performance Class, written and directed by junior William Arnold and co-directed by junior Rodney Mason, reinforces the significance of Urban Theater’s presence at Colgate. The play critiqued and exposed the faults of the education systems in urban communities, specifically the dependency of inner city teens on sports to go to college and the moral dilemma faced by girls when confronted with the option of using their bodies for passing grades. Arnold, an English concentrator from Atlanta, realizes that performing this play for the Colgate community was a bold statement, “I don’t want to offend anyone. It may talk about fragile topics, but what I wanted was a true depiction, to show the reality of these places.” And indeed the very reason why the play stands out from the more traditional Colgate Student Theater is the same basis that compelled Arnold, Mason and the entire cast to perform it: the play exposes the different backgrounds and experiences of students who came to Colgate and share a campus. Arnold got the idea to write his play during the fall semester and although he never expected to perform it at Colgate, his vision was actualized with the help of a community effort including members of the football team, the Swinging ‘Gates and the Urban Theater program. The entire cast and crew were in awe of Arnold and his remarkable writing and directing ability and Mason’s organization and leadership. As sophomore Andrea Harrison (“Tina Simmons”) exclaims, “[Will] had a vision and went forward with it. It’s very difficult to have and maintain the determination that he possessed even in the face of adversity.” Arnold’s dedication to the play was written all over his face when he opened with a monologue about “borders.” His initial message challenged the audience to question what right they have to judge the characters on the stage and to contemplate the subjectivity of ethical decisions. The tension between the actors and the audience was the essence of the play; because many Colgate students have not shared these experiences and also because many have, the audience is asked to try and feel what the protagonist, Monica Robinson (played by sophomore Kia King) felt. Urban Theater provided the venue and the means for Arnold’s words to become a reality. “Urban Theater was founded ten years ago by students to offer an alternative to more conservative student writing and to provide an outlet for students of color to explore their environment,” explained Mason, the General Manager of Urban Theater. First-year Marcelina James (“Tonya Hill”) sees the play as “a chance to let the urban community shine. There are often so many performances put on by people of non-color background; it gives me pleasure to see that we are receiving representation and support in the production of this play.” James added, “Urban Theater allows the people of color to let their voice be heard. We experience many criticisms, but what is there to hide?” And according to Mason, Urban Theater “is raw, not PC. What you see is what you get.” And what the audiences got in Class was a candid portrayal of sexual abuse, neglectful parents and child molestation, certainly not comfortable issues to discuss or to perform, but everyone who participated in the production was dedicated to the need to bring these matters to the surface. As costume designer junior Chantell Bowman explained, “The message in the play deserves an A+ because this issue is not usually addressed in our society. It’s like if no one talks about sleeping with their teachers for better grades, it doesn’t exist. Moreover, if the issue is addressed it is viewed as a rumor or something that is fabricated just for someone to receive attention.” Similarly, Harrison added, “It is very easy to just look at [the story] from the surface as a girl who slept with teachers for better grades. But this play is so much more than that … although most of us will never be in a predicament such as that of Monique’s, we are at least guaranteed to arrive at a crossroad where we are forced to make a decision that will affect the rest of our lives.” Working with a limited budget, the tight space of the Edge and a very short time span (the real work being done in a little over a month), the production elements presented a challenge to the cast and crew, but by Friday’s show it ran so smoothly that the packed audience gave a standing ovation. First-year Danielle Keller (“Ms. Lamar”) expressed, “I hope that the performance showed our critics that doing a long play in under two months is possible, and that purely student-run productions are possible and can be very successful.” Harrison also recollects, “I remember Will coming up to a group of us and saying, ‘hey, you wanna be in a play?’ and before we knew it, we were performing in front of an audience in the Edge.” Arnold and Mason would like to thank the entire cast and crew for their team effort and time spent orchestrating this meaningful Urban Theater production; undoubtedly, anyone in the audience left with nothing but the utmost respect and admiration of all those involved for bringing something very worthwhile to the Colgate culture.