It’s Wednesday night at Second Stage Theater. Student actors are in their seats diligently studying their lines, while two of their co-stars rehearse a scene on stage. Despite there being only two weeks until the African American Theater Arts Troupe’s premiere of Pipeline, there is an air of lightheartedness throughout the space.
Pipeline is by renowned Black playwright Dominique Morisseau, a two-time winner of the NAACP Image Award. Morisseau has also authored eight other plays, and received the MacArthur Fellowship in 2018.
The play takes a sharp look at family dynamics and race within educational institutions through a mother and son relationship.
“Pipeline is about the school-to-prison pipeline,” said student producer Junebug Sonnenberg. “It doesn’t beat you over the head with a point, but you see the characters going through the impacts of criminalization within the school system and the impacts of that on Black students’ parents.”
The show is presented by the African American Theater Arts Troupe (AATAT) and directed by Don Williams, AATAT founder and lecturer in the Theater Arts department.
The production is double-casted to allow for more people to act in it, as well as to demonstrate the breadth of a variety of AATAT actors.
“Pipeline is an actor showcase that really touches upon a variety of issues that are still present […] in our educational system,” Williams said.
The play explores the relationship between a young Black man named Omari, who faces expulsion from his prestigious private school, and his mother Nya, a teacher in the public school system.
Halin Moss, a third-year theater arts major at UC Santa Cruz, plays Omari.
“Omari represents the Black experience through the eyes of a teenage boy and having to go through traumatic experiences as a teenager and dealing with them in a mature way,” Moss said.
The play also highlights the criminalization of Black youth within the school system. The U.S. has the world’s highest incarceration rate, with most offenders being Black or other people of color. As Sonnenberg noted, a pipeline exists that funnels Black youth out of school and into prison.
AATAT will bring local high school students to the show for free through an outreach program run in collaboration with Engaging Education. It will also take the show to various college campuses such as Monterey Peninsula College in Seaside, California.
“Pipeline shows the difficulty of maintaining relationships, and how the education system strains these relationships, especially between parents and children or teachers and students,” said Nazeerah Rashad, second-year and assistant student director.
Those producing the show say that it lets Morisseau’s words and message take center stage. Like other pieces in her catalog, Pipeline is based on the reality of the Black experience.
“There’s no caricatures. There’s no stereotypes,” Sonnenberg said. “She’s just telling stories about real people who happen to be Black, and it engages in things that happen to people of color, especially Black people.”