Written by Patrick Chavis
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the creators of UCI’s new original play “[Our Life] The Black Youth Stories Project”. Writers Ross Jackson and Megan Gainey spoke freely about their journey making this extensive project.
So how did you get together to create this project?
Megan: Well we got together because we are together. (Megan and Ross laugh together). I was just sort of the person he was venting to about his ideas, and I was like oh cool other ideas.
Ross: The whole thing started when I was in Portland, Oregon for the Ferguson trial. The night of the Ferguson verdict was the night before I was supposed to drive back down here [Orange County]. Instead of resting and getting ready for the drive, I was watching the protests online.
“As I was watching these people get tear gassed and incapacitated through the
different ways the police system had to do that, I was inspired by the fact that so
many people were out on that street because they believed in one thing–that one thing
So this project is a compilation of stories from a lot of different people, where did you find the material?
Ross: We went to different high schools across America and asked the students about the black experience in America. A majority of the students were black students, but we were open to talk to any student that was willing to participate. We developed exercises in a classroom environment to try and warm up to the question of whether racism is really over. Once we built that foundation to ease people into a discussion, we started asking questions and from those answers we developed the stories for the project. Thankfully, we received a lot of support from people at the schools wherever we went: Portland, New Orleans, Miami, Arkansas and New York.
“It’s really amazing when you put a group of 9th to 10th graders in a room. You ask them a question, ‘is racism over —why or why not?’ They’re much more willing to talk about it than the people we consider to be grown ups.”
Is theatre the best way to tell these stories?
Ross: I think art is the best way to tell these stories. We choose theatre because that’s where our practice is. I enjoy art most when it’s inspired by my own culture. When we can create something from something we love out of the culture that we care about, we’re able to speak in a different way. This [theatre] is our medium.
How has UCI contributed to this project?
Megan: We’re both students, so it was the easiest place to book a space. As far as the practicality of putting on the show, it was the most logical location. He applied for a couple of grants to help fund the project. We both have faculty mentors helping us with the fundamentals of the production. It was also amazing how excited everyone was and how many people were willing to jump on board and be like, yes. This is something that’s prevalent and needs to be talked about. We get Facebook messages from people not even on the production volunteering their help. Neither of us have ever done anything like this from a creator’s standpoint before, but there was an immediate support network letting us know it was okay.
How do you make a cohesive and effective narrative with so many different stories when it’s hard to tell just one story correctly?
Ross: We have 15 total pieces in the show, which are full blown stories or scenes inspired by stories. So what is amazing is we–
Megan: [Jumps in] We wrote all of them separately. We didn’t plan on them being related to each in any way, shape or form.
Ross: Yeah, we just took them [the stories] and put them in the right order. It was like magic. It’s really a series of happily placed sequencing.
Megan: We were kind of watching it unfold and being like “How do these connect so nicely?”
Ross: I think the answer is relevancy. Everything we’re talking about is relevant. We’re not trying to throw spaghetti at the wall anymore. We are very finite in what we are trying to emphasize and what we’re trying to get across.
What would you like this play to accomplish?
Ross: What we have the ability to do is put on this show, and at the end of it, we can be like “All right, lets talk about it.” We engage our audience that way to start a conversation with them. Whatever the effect the show has, our hope is that it lasts with them after they walk out of the theatre. Theatre has a really amazing reach. It has the ability to entertain, but it also has the ability to address real issues.
Our Life : The Black Youths Stories Project plays at UCI from
Claire Trevor School of the Arts
Contemporary Arts Center xMPL
Irvine, CA 92697
Thursday, June 4, 2015 at 8:00 PM –Saturday, June 6, 2015 at 10:00 PM
The show is Free RSVP here
Our Life: The Black Youth Stories Project
Written by Ross Jackson, Megan Gainey, Taylor Fagins
Based upon stories collected from black Americans about the black experience in America
Directed by Amanda Novoa
Scenic design by Morgan Price
Projection design by Glenn Michael Baker
Costume design by Kaitlyn Kaufman
Lighting design by Jamie Eby
Sound designer/composition by Mark Caspary & Brian Svoboda
Stage managed by Alex Meyer and Caitlin Bosworth
Christopher Bearden, Taylor Fagins, and Maribel Martinez
Conceived and produced by Ross Jackson
Co-produced by Joel Veenstra
Supported by and developed by countless others
including New Narratives: Conversations on Identities & Culture
and the Claire Trevor School of the Arts Drama Department
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