Talking Horse Production’s newest play might be considered challenging. That’s because it tackles hard subjects: race, implicit bias and prejudice.
The play, titled “White People,” is a series of monologues from three ordinary Americans. Talking Horse describes it as a “candid, brutally honest meditation on race and language in our culture.” The play is written by Tony award-winning playwright J.T. Rogers, who is originally from Columbia. His play “Oslo” is currently being performed at the Repertory Theatre in St. Louis.
When director Monica Palmer read the script of “White People,” she said she thought it wasn’t a good fit for her. But over time, she kept thinking about it, and decided she wanted to direct it. This is her fourth time directing a play.
“I just started doing all this work on myself and thought, ‘You know what, I have to help bring this story to other people,’” Palmer said.
In addition to the performances occurring Feb. 14-17, Talking Horse is hosting a “talk back” session with the cast and crew to digest some of the themes of the play, hosted by various community members like MU's Vice Chancellor for Inclusion, Diversity & Equity Kevin McDonald, and Andrea Waner of the Columbia Human Rights Commission.
KBIA’s Seth Bodine spoke to Palmer about her experience with the play, and coming to terms with privilege and bias.
What was it about the play that initially struck you?
I think we have a tendency when we think about racism and white privilege as something that’s “out there.” You know, it’s society or a culture thing. And it’s something people like me feel like we’re removed form that somehow. Growing up, I never thought my community was racist because I never saw anything in my real life. I never saw crosses burning in people’s yards, I never saw anyone being beaten. I never saw anything like that. But ... I think one of the concepts in the show is sometimes it’s the things that we don’t see, that we’re unaware of, that can change our lives. And some of those concepts really resonated with me. It kind of changed my perspective on things.
What made you want to become a director of a play?
Well, I’ve always been fascinated by theater. I think theater, among other art forms are a wonderful way to reach people on a level where they’re not expected to be enlightened, they’re coming out to be entertained. … When you’re in a dark space with other people and you’re experiencing art together, that sort of group consciousness of experiencing something and really contemplating some big stuff. In this show particular, some hard concepts too, like atonement and reparation and things like that. Those are really, really hard problems to think about, and uncomfortable. To be able to do that in a group with other people, I think that’s pretty powerful.
When people come and see the show, how would you describe the first time someone sees it?
The first time you come, just be open minded. On the surface I think, these are three different people who at first, there may be some more likeable than others. But what I hope is that people will recognize themselves in these characters, and maybe hear in the voices people that they know or ideas that have taken residency in their own psyche. And recognize those things and pay attention to things that make them uncomfortable. Pay attention to the things that make them laugh. Those are the clues, I think will help them do work on themselves and finding that implicit bias and find that those seeds of possibly racism or prejudice, find those things that they might not even be aware of. I think that’s what this work can really inspire people to do.