Wearing black faces and baggy clothes, a part of history stalked the prop-strewn stage of the Student Union’s multipurpose room Nov. 13. It’s a history that holds surprising sway, even if it’s a history that has remained, up until now, mostly quiet.
“It’s sort of like Americans put this under the rug,” performer Aaron White said about the old minstrel shows that inspired “The Dance: A History of American Minstrelry,” a play laying bare the history of this once popular form of entertainment.
Minstrelsy began in the mid-1800s as a type of street performance that negatively depicted blacks.
“I spent my whole life in theatre school, and never learned about this,” White said.
Aaron, with Jason White, the play’s author, portrayed two stock minstrel clowns from the time period, complete with blackface makeup and exaggerated accents. They relied on the defining elements of the minstrel genre, which, Jason said, still affect society.
“Most modern black stereotypes originated in the minstrel show,” he said.
Jason first noticed in the once popular minstrel genre while he was a student at the California School of the Arts in 2004 researching on exploitation. It was this research that led him to write what would become “The Dance.”
“We’ve been doing this for five years, about to go into our sixth year,” White said.
The play, brought to campus by the Activities Programming Board as part of diversity week, received a positive reaction from attendees.
“It’s amazing,” said Ashley Roberts, a recent graduate of Xavier University, who brought her sister along the second time she saw the show.
“It carries a universal theme. Black. White. It doesn’t matter,” Roberts said.
“I thought it was really good,” said Marshauna Campbell, Roberts’ sister and a sophomore public relations major. “The acting was really good, too.”
For more information on “The Dance,” see the play’s Web site at www.seethedance.com.