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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, April 18, 2024

Envision, Tufts’ Black theater company, breaks barriers with ‘How We Got On’

Envision members Donovan Sanders and Moriah Granger are pictured rehearsing.

The work of Tufts’ groundbreaking Black theater company Envision will grace the stage of Curtis Hall on Feb. 9–11. The troupe, the first of its kind in years, will showcase the play “How We Got On” by Idris Goodwin. The brainchild of sophomore Chance Walker, Envision stands as a revolutionary space for Tufts’ current generation of Black actors and artists.

Walker attributed Envision’s birth to the traditional dearth of spaces dedicated to Black theater at Tufts and beyond.

“I wanted to see myself represented and [wanted] places for myself and my community,” Walker said.

When speaking about the inspiration behind the troupe, Walker highlighted the importance of creating platforms for minority voices.

“When we are discussing Blackness, a lot of the discussions center trauma and [resiliency] in terms of oppression, but I would say Envision … is centering Black joy, and light and creativity,” Walker said. “I feel like that captures a whole other dimension of our experience that I want to nurture and celebrate.”

This idea of representation of Black voices is one that carries throughout the narratives and plays that Envision performs. “How We Got On” tells the story of three suburban teens coming of age during the rise of hip hop in the 1980s.

First-year student and actor Dylan Bell, who stars as Hank, spoke to the way that the upcoming play mirrors his own experiences.

“I think one of the things that drew me to this script was [the fact that] I saw myself in … the story,” Bell said. “My hope for [Envision] is that we continue to tell the stories that reflect Tufts students. … Everyone has their own unique story.”

A common theme among Envision’s cast and crew is a sense of community and belonging exemplified through participation in the group. Elias Swartz, Envision’s stage manager, recounted his hopes for Envision’s potential as an empowering force.

“Even though [Tufts] has been getting more and more diverse, [Black students] are still the minority and we are still in a white-dominated space so we’re all experiencing that same struggle of having to exist in a space that’s not our own,” Swartz said. “Specifically in higher education and specifically at Tufts, I feel like that’s probably what would define the Black experience, is having to navigate this white space.”

Swartz hopes to strengthen the Black community at Tufts.

“I want to help bridge the gap and help create a more connected Tufts Black community, where we can all sort of also enjoy what it means to be Black,” Swartz said.

Tufts hosts a collection of student organizations dedicated to theater, including Torn Ticket II, Traveling Treasure Trunk and more. However, Envision currently exists as the only explicitly Black-oriented theater collective. With this speciality in mind, Envision stands on the shoulders of former Tufts Black theater initiatives, including last year’s production of “Almanac.”

Tufts students present in the 2021–22 academic year will remember “Almanac” as the largest attended show in the theater department’s history. Directed by Maurice Parent, professor of the practice in theater, dance and performance studies, “Almanac” was one of the largest and most diverse casts the department had ever produced. Recounting themes of state violence, Black artistic agency in predominantly white spaces and the art of creation itself, “Almanac” was a “first in many ways,” as described by Parent.

Harrison Clark, the co-creator of “Almanac,” paid homage to the work and capacity of the wider community.

“A lot of the research that I was doing pre-‘Almanac’ and why I was inspired to write it was because of how much talent has come through [this] space,” Clark said. It's really incredible. If you look at it on paper, like, why this school in Medford [and] Somerville, Mass., … a concentration of Black talent [has] just flowed through here for years,” Clark said.

Clark is looking forward to the future projects of Envision.

“I'm really excited about Envision,” Clark said. “A lot of the people that are involved [in Envision have] connections to ‘Almanac’ in some way. It makes me really proud of the work we did last year, and also very hopeful that what we did is just the beginning of something much bigger, like a recurring thing that can happen on campus.”

It is important to note that Envision is not Tufts’ first Black theater collective. In previous years, there was a troupe that “[fell] by the wayside,” according to Professor Parent, once its founders graduated. This phenomenon is prevalent, especially due to the smaller nature of Tufts’ Black demographics. Yet currently, Envision is working towards becoming a TCU-recognized club. Its members and supporters alike aim for the collective to be long lasting, and to grow its reach in coming years.

Parent spoke to both Envision’s significance and enduring potential.

“Theater is for everyone. However, theater does not always feature everyone; it does not always center everyone. So we have to be very intentional about theater that centers stories … from marginalized groups and oppressed groups,” Parent said.

“I hope this is the beginning of more people of various backgrounds and identities coming out to audition for department shows,” Parent wrote in an email to the Daily. “We can’t have diversity onstage if we don’t have diversity in casting calls.”

Although Envision is revolutionizing Tufts’ theater space, it is also a part of a robust collection of Africana-oriented clubs and publications on campus. These clubs and organizations contribute to Tufts’ vibrant art and social scene, and are integral to the wider campus community.

Clark referenced many Black organizations at Tufts such as Essence, S-Factor, BlackOut and ENVY that have been crucial in supporting Black artists.

“I want students and staff to know that there's a legacy behind [Envision and ‘Almanac’],” Clark said. “They're built on the back of … decades of phenomenal Black talent. And if you don't go to support them, if you don't go to their shows, they will disappear. I just want the community … to go support Black art. If the goal is to build an anti-racist institution, if it's to build an equitable space, then you need to be consuming Black art. And there's so much of it on campus. I'd like to see a lot more of everybody at all of those events.”

“How We Got On” will premiere Feb. 9–11 in the Curtis Hall Multipurpose Room.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly described "Almanac" as the first Tufts play to feature a predominantly Black cast. A reference to other student theater groups has been updated to remove the mention of Bare Bodkin Theater Company, which is not presently active on campus. The Daily regrets the errors.