In "US/THEM," playwright Machele Miller Dill uses sketch and improv comedy to discuss the different backgrounds and realities of various people in our community and other societies. Running June 9–11 as part of SummerStage Tulsa, Dill hopes "US/THEM" will make the audience hurt from laughing so much, "but also because they want to make a difference."
After hearing a sermon in Tulsa about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," Dill was inspired. She opened rehearsals with her small group of cast members by asking them, "How do you think others see you?" and "How do you see yourself?"
By using a diverse cast with many different backgrounds (LGBTQIA, black, white, and Native American), Dill will use her theater experience to give a stage to marginalized people of color, gender-nonconforming individuals, and individuals of various sexual orientations so that they may express their experiences with racism, bigotry, and micro-aggressions.
Dill was also inspired by Viola Davis’ acceptance speech at the 2015 Emmy Awards Show, making her the first African American woman to win the award for Best Actress in a Drama Series. In her acceptance speech, the "How to Get Away with Murder" star said, "The only thing separating women of color from anyone else is opportunity."
Like other work from Echo Theatre Company, "US/THEM" is concerned with social justice.
"We produce works that are global in scope, socially conscious in substance, and educational in outlook," Dill said.
With the timing of the play so close to the news of Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby’s not-guilty verdict, it offers a look at the deeper issues of race and social stereotypes that continue to play a role in dividing communities like Ferguson, Baltimore, and Tulsa. It is hoped by the cast that this performance will spark a conversation of unity by shining a light on the social constructs that hold us back.
The play, which is mostly satire and inspired by "In Living Color," features a myriad of skits that touch on topics such as white privilege, prejudice, a few well-known stereotypes, and what it really means to be woke. Skits comically named "You Could Pass for That" and "I Could Get Away with That" are only half of the fun. In one portion of the show, the cast fields anonymous questions from the crowd—similar to popular ask-a-(insert minority here) skits and columns.
Cast member Tara Dawn Moses says she hopes to show that race isn’t just black and white, that Latino, Middle Eastern, and Native American people are also affected by these same issues but are often overlooked.
"The most educated person in America, according to recent statistics, is the African American woman," Moses said. "But, only 67 percent of Native Americans graduate [high school]."
Through creating skits based on racial situations she experienced growing up in Tulsa—like being mistaken for another ethnicity or being asked by strangers if they can touch her hair, she hopes people learn to recognize the "subtle and social oppression people partake in either consciously or subconsciously."
Dill also wants to show the difference between tolerance and diversity. "Tolerance says you tolerate people of different backgrounds in spaces, but doesn’t mean you like them or want them there," she said. "Diversity is acceptance."
One of the ways the play aims to help the audience do that is with an R-rated comedy sketch about the Washington Redskins football team that highlights the widespread use of a slur and the silent acceptance that allows it.
By providing action items at the end of the show, Echo Theatre Company will encourage the audience to be involved in the community and with organizations like the Oklahoma Equality Center, Greenwood Cultural Center, Domestic Violence Intervention Services, Dress for Success, and Youth Services of Tulsa.
While "US/THEM" is sure to be enjoyable, full of laughs and exaggeration, there is a deeper message the audience is meant to catch: There is no us or them.
June 9 and 10, 8pm, and June 11, 2pm, Libby Doenges Theatre at Tulsa Performing Arts Center.
Tickets for this and other SummerStage performances are available for purchase at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center and tulsapac.com.
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