Arts and Entertainment reporter Gabrielle Garcia acts as Pia in the African American Theater Arts Troupe‘s (AATAT) production of “Black Eagles,” a play about black World War II. Read about her experiences rehearsing and working alongside other members of AATAT.
February 19, 20, 21, 22 at 7 p.m.
(Doors open at 6:30 p.m.)
ADMISSION FREE for UCSC students with ID
General admission: $12
Non-UCSC students: $7
UCSC Stevenson Event Center
1156 High St
Santa Cruz, CA
“Black Eagles” — a production by the African American Theater Arts Troupe (AATAT) — is three weeks away from production. In the midst of hard work, reading through scripts and planning sets and costumes, everyone came together to enjoy something spectacular — food. The cast and crew worked today from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m. with few breaks in between, ending with a potluck. Ribs, chicken and macaroni and cheese relaxed in plates on a warm Saturday.
As actors and crew danced their carbs off, AATAT Director Don Williams discussed the importance of the troupe, the class and the production itself.
“We should have more AATAT troupes in every university because it is a real benchmark of giving an opportunity for many cultures to really understand black life,” Williams said.
Unless you’re brought up in specialized history classes, or family history, it is difficult to find roots in the culture of people of color and in personalized stories. AATAT unfolds that history in an interactive way that students are engaged in, and presents this story through artistic expression. Although the show is a collaboration of work, every member of AATAT brings their own flavor to the table.
“The script focuses on African Americans who participated in the war, and they are heroes because they saved so many lives,” Williams said.
Students on campus may not be aware of the level of retention that AATAT holds for those participating. This year is unique, in that it is mostly an all-male cast — I’m one of the two women cast in the single woman role. The cast holds a stage presence that is similar to that of an actual air force. Although many women participate behind the scenes, the actors on stage portray an image of brotherhood to bring forth what it might have been like to live inside army barracks during the 1940s.
Jewell Long-Hayes, a fourth-year who is an active student organizer, explained how he got introduced to the troupe.
“My sophomore year I had a lot of friends that were doing productions with Rainbow [Theater] and AATAT, so I went out and I supported them,” Hayes said. “[Williams] approached me about coming out and performing because there was a shortage of African American males.”
Hayes, a history major who plays a war veteran that was part of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, knows more than the average student about the tensions of the war. He has helped actors, like myself, to place themselves in the time and place of Italy in the mid 1940s.
Not everyone is an actor, however. A large part of AATAT are people like Autumn Johnson, a fourth-year student who is the assistant stage manager — she helps with everything backstage. From run crew to set and technical assistance, she is always aware of what is going on.
“People are starting to fall into their characters and really embody their characters, but there is always room for improvement,” Johnson said. “I know everybody is practicing a lot, getting into their character mode, but people from the beginning to now, there has definitely been a lot of change and growth into character development.”