When she was 15 years old, Kayla Ybarra sat down at the Pasadena Playhouse to watch Real Women Have Curves, which follows a Latinx young woman torn between staying home to help her family or going away to college. When Ybarra left her own family for her first year at UC Santa Cruz, she was cast as the lead role, Ana Garcia, for the Rainbow Theatre production of the same play.
After the formation of the African American Theater Arts Troupe (AATAT) in 1991, students from other underrepresented communities were looking for a space to perform their stories as well. By 1993, Don Williams founded Rainbow Theatre, providing a space for multicultural stories to be told on the UCSC stage.
“Being able to tell those stories of our people, like my parents’ experiences or my great grandparents who came over from Mexico, felt very good. It just feels right when you’re doing it, it’s rewarding in all aspects,” said Ybarra, the vice chair for the Cultural Arts and Diversity Resource Center (CADrc) Board of Directors. “Just being able to find people that have similar stories that are wanting to tell those stories together is really something you don’t understand until you experience it.”
Rainbow Theatre performs plays written by Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Latinx/Chicanx playwrights that focus on the lived experiences of these communities.
Rainbow Theatre tells stories from all cultural backgrounds and has done performances like “In the Heights,” by Quiara Alegría Hudes with music and lyrics by Lin Manuel Miranda. The play follows a Latinx bodega owner conflicted about closing his store after receiving inheritance from his grandmother. Another is “Colored Museum,” written by George C. Wolfe, a satirical play in which 11 ‘exhibits’ showcase prominent Black figures, and discusses topics like racism, stereotypes, and segregation . As well as “Stop Kiss,” written by Diana Son, which highlights two women in New York who are victims of a hate crime that interrupts their developing relationship.
Rainbow Theatre is also taught as a class, OAKS 80H, where students read and analyze plays written by people of color and choose the play for the “Fifth Element,” one of the five productions put on by Rainbow Theatre throughout the season.
The Rainbow Theatre production season changed last academic year from fall to spring quarter to allow for more outreach and recruiting during winter quarter. However, when the pandemic began at the end of winter quarter, Rainbow ended up losing time to recruit and plan for its productions. During the first quarter of virtual learning, Rainbow Theatre still found a way to share its stories.
Throughout the Rainbow Theatre season, five performances are done total. Three productions aim to capture the experiences and playwrights from Black, Asian American, and Latinx/Chicanx communities, one production entitled “Fifth Element” is chosen by the students of OAKS 80H, then Poet’s Corner is a show written and directed by Rainbow Theatre students and can include spoken word, poetry, dance, and more dependent on the writers and directors chosen for that year.
“Last spring, we did a podcast series in place of the show, just because of everything that happened and we went home to quarantine,” said August Stevens, CAD ambassador of ethnic organizations. “We’re trying to see if maybe we could split it, so some of the Rainbow shows would be a virtual production with actors, we have a better idea of how to do that and still make it intriguing and watchable. Then the other half might be all podcasts. We haven’t decided yet, but that’s where we are in our thinking at the moment.”
The Rainbow Theatre podcast series features CAD staff like Stevens, other Rainbow Theatre students, and director of Rainbow Theatre and AATAT Don Williams, who recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of AATAT at a virtual gala held on Feb. 20.
The podcast also featured elements of “Poet’s Corner,” the student written and directed Rainbow Theatre show, in their episodes including spoken word segments. After facing delays due to the pandemic, “Poet’s Corner” was released in the summer of 2020 virtually on the CAD YouTube channel as the podcast finale.
“Poet’s Corner looked different last year, because of the pandemic, usually it would be like an actual stage production where we get to collaborate and work together and sort of build scenes that come from poems we’ve been writing,” said Bene’t Benton, previous director of Poet’s Corner. “It was just really interesting seeing how current events influenced Poet’s Corner and what we could do with that in order to let students know that we feel you, we understand you and we’re all going through this together.”
The next Rainbow Theatre season will begin this spring, with plans still being made in regards to how performances will be shared and adjusted for virtual learning. While the podcast may continue, Rainbow Theatre also hopes to incorporate virtual productions of their shows into the mix.
Rainbow Theatre and CAD Technical Director Richard Crago worked as the lead editor of the podcast series and plans on extending his talents even further this year.
“Last year, [Rainbow Theatre] did the podcast mostly in audio form. I’ve been working on… doing virtual performances, [which are] as close to live theater as you can get. But video editing is still up in the air,” Crago said. “The main focus will be much more on the video side this year. That’s the plan, and we hope to do our normal range of shows.”
By performing many shows during the season, with each one depicting underrepresented communities or uplifting student writers and directors, Rainbow Theatre is working to make their organization as inclusive as possible and encouraging those who have no experience in theater to try something new.
“Rainbow is open to anyone…and we train you to become accustomed to being in theater, it’s helpful having different perspectives because there’s going to be something different or unique about the way [everyone] directs,” Stevens said. “It’s important [to] trust students and uplift them, which is Mr. Williams number one quote — uplift others higher than yourself. That’s really what we try to embody, uplifting students and letting them continue to uplift their stories, their histories, and their identity.”
Auditions for Rainbow Theatre will be held on March 30 and 31 from 7:00-9:00 p.m., more information about how to audition can be found on the CADrc website here.