By students of color, for everyone. In fall 1993, Rainbow Theatre began opening eyes to cultural diversity at UC Santa Cruz and grew into an indispensable institution. 

Photo from CHP Archives.


Feb. 1 marks the beginning of Rainbow Theatre’s weekendlong celebration of its 25th season. The events will commemorate Rainbow’s legacy of diversity and cultural  awareness.

“Through Rainbow’s creating there has been much greater acceptance and understanding of various cultures that we represent,” said Rainbow Theatre founder and faculty director Don Williams.

The celebration will feature two actors’ workshops, a performance of Pratik Motwani’s “Embedded” and several meals to be shared between alumni, theater professionals and students. 

Illustration by Sabrina Ilumin.

Guest Artist Inspiration

Every year, Rainbow Theatre selects professional directors and actors of color to perform on campus. Professional shows are selected with the aim of motivating actors to pursue acting and help them hone their craft. This year, Pratik Motwani, originally from Mumbai, India, will perform his one-man play, “Embedded.” 

Motwani’s play chronicles the story of a man, Cinnamon Briganza, who becomes so consumed with producing his own internet persona that he loses touch with his identity in the external world.

“We are constantly building versions of ourselves that we want the world to see us as, versions of ourselves that are more and more distant from whom we really are,” said Motwani in an email. “These virtual identities are being virtually validated and the walls being virtually reinforced.” 

In an attempt to gain acceptance in a world that labeled him an outcast, Cinnamon Briganza starts to build a virtual identity through social media. He uses YouTube to connect with an online audience and seeks validation via his virtual mask. As the play progresses and Motwani’s character becomes more entrenched in his online world, he struggles to define who he is.

“The two identities then begin to talk to each other. This premise cracks open the opportunity for the audience to follow and simultaneously examine the journey of how one builds identity in the first place,” Motwani said in an email.

Motwani’s ability to examine a global dilemma using diverse media and an outrageous sense of humor inspired Rainbow members to contract him to perform at UCSC. Williams and accompanying Rainbow Theatre troupe members were impressed with Motwani’s performance of “Embedded” at the National Asian American Theater Conference and Festival in Chicago last year.

“It’s so avant-garde,” said student assistant production coordinator Jazmine Logan. “It made you question how technology is taking over. It’s making you question the boundaries and limits we  have.”

Equipping Students For Success

Rainbow Theatre is a place for students of color to take charge of their artistic expression and representation in theatrical performance. Members of the Rainbow Theatre troupe write, direct, produce and perform their own productions — rare at both the university and professional level. 

“There’s something about knowing you’re supported artistically but also being surrounded by people that have had similar experiences to you,” said Rainbow Theatre director and fourth-year Amanda Gabriela Ceballos-Astacio. “I had never really seen artists of color in theater.”

Photo from CHP Archives.

Representation on stage is essential to fighting the assumption that one does not belong in an environment lacking representation of a specific identity. There is a consensus among Rainbow Theatre members that audience members and artists need to see people who look like them on stage to feel their presence in the theater is welcome. 

“Cultural diversity […] in theater gives a representation of not only the people who are in it, but the people in the audience getting to see themselves and their experience onstage,” said Rainbow Theatre alumna Niketa Calame- Harris.

Alumni and the Future

Since its creation, Rainbow Theatre has instilled values its troupe members take with them beyond university, into the professional field. During the anniversary weekend, many will return to give back to Rainbow Theatre’s present members. 

The weekend’s events will feature the voices of several mentors and professional actors. On Sunday, alumnus Ken Songco will deliver a keynote speech. Motwani himself will be facilitating a workshop on acting technique strategies, and actress and alumnus Calame-Harris will deliver a workshop on the practical aspects of professional acting, titled “The Business  of  Acting.”

Calame-Harris is a mentor to current Rainbow Theatre troupe members. Now an acting coach, producer and successful actor in productions such as Disney’s “The Lion King,” she regularly returns to UCSC to prepare young artists of color to navigate the world of professional acting. 

“It’s about coming back and giving your knowledge of theater in the outside world and putting it back to the university,” Calame-Harris said. “For the students to be able to handle what’s gonna happen when they leave. Passing on the knowledge of generations gone by, and the relevance of it still.”

With students of color participating at all points of the production process, visual entertainment will begin to reflect the diversity of the world we live in with greater  accuracy. 

Photo from CHP Archives.

“People coming up have to also be in the rooms that are making [art],” Calame-Harris said. “Not just actors. Become writers, engineers, the people who are the change makers as well as in front of the camera so that those stories can start to change and shift.”

All events are open to the public. RSVP online by 5 p.m. Friday night on Rainbow’s website.