Setting: A black box rehearsal room located in a performing arts college. It is set up in preparation for an audition with a long table and a chair placed center stage left. Across is a wide open space with a foldable chair leaned up against the wall, sticking out against the nothingness.
Time: Midday on a Friday
Rani Shori, 18, Mexican American and Indian American: Rani is a freshman in college and she is enrolled as a BA theatre student who hopes to make it into her school’s BFA acting program. She feels she has a lot to prove to others when it comes to her talent with theatre, especially with her parents, but will later come to find that the sooner she starts focusing on herself, the sooner life becomes easier. She has written an original one-act play about immigrants and migrant workers after learning about certain international and domestic human rights violations. The play has been selected to be a part of a student showcase.
As the daughter of an immigrant and the granddaughter of immigrants who fought alongside Ceasar Chavez during the ’60s farmworker strikes, Rani has been raised to understand and respect activists’ work and is now exploring what this work looks like through her own perspective. While in college, she has struggled with imposter syndrome, often feeling like she does not belong in the same classes as her more well-versed peers in the theatre program. Writing this play was the first time she was able to call herself an artist without feeling like a phony.
Sabrina Lopez, 19, Mexican American and Ecuadorian American: After taking a year off of school, Sabrina returns in her spring semester in the department of theatre and dance. She hopes to be accepted into the coveted and mysterious BFA Acting program at the end of her sophomore year. The last three years for her have been filled with hardship and uncertainty, but one thing she knows for sure is that acting is her calling. She worries that she may not be well received by her new classmates for having left, but that fear will not stop her from auditioning for upcoming productions that just so happen to appeal to her identity and beliefs.
Lights up on an empty rehearsal room. Rani comes in carrying a backpack and talking on her cell phone to her mother. We can tell that she is growing very tired of this conversation, but she continues to ready her space while she stays on the phone.
Rani: Yeah mom everything’s going great (Pause) No, seriously everything’s fine. (Another pause) my voice? What do you mean you can hear it in my voice, what are you—
She is interrupted by a knock at the door
Rani: (To the person knocking) Just a sec! (Back to her phone) Hey mom, I’ll call you back in a bit the person’s here to— The one I told you about already, the person I’m auditioning today for the show. (Pause) Yep. Okay, I’ll call you back, bye, love you too, okay bye mom!
She hangs up and puts her phone back in her pocket. She goes to open the door, but stops and rushes back to quickly finish setting up her stuff. She’s trying to find something in her bag, but is unable to locate it. She gives up on her search and finally goes to open the door.
Rani: Hi, sorry for the wait, I’m still trying to set up a bit.
In walks Sabrina. She is all ready for her audition and looks prepared as she steps into the room. She is carrying a small purse and a stack of papers.
Sabrina: No worries! Is there anywhere I can put these? (Indicates her purse and the papers)
Rani: Um, yeah, go ahead and give me the papers and you can just set your purse off to the side for now, it shouldn’t take too long.
Sabrina: Awesome! And you are, (Trying to pronounce it correctly) Rani?
Rani: Rani, yeah, it’s nice to meet you! Are you a freshman too?
Sabrina: Um, it’s a long story, but yeah I guess you could say I am. A freshman.
Rani: Did you transfer here then?
Sabrina: No, I took a year off. I had some, uh, things to sort out for a little bit. But anyways, I’m here now and I’m really excited for this audition. I really loved your play.
Rani: (Caught off guard) Oh thank you! That’s really nice of you to say.
Sabrina: I’ll be honest I was hesitant to audition for anything at first before I read it cause usually there aren’t any roles that I could realistically play if you know what I mean.
Rani: Like age-wise? Or—
Sabrina: No, I just meant.. Oh nevermind, I don’t want to waste our time right now.
Rani: You’re all good! The next person after you isn’t until 2:30 so I have an hour and a half to kill anyways. I think I know what you’re saying now, and trust me, I get it too. This place can feel very, uh, white for a lack of a better word.
Sabrina: (With relief) Yeah, I thought I was the only one who felt that way.
Rani: (With a knowing smile on her face) Oh, definitely not. Last semester I realized that if there weren’t too many people in this school who looked like me, then that meant there were probably not enough spots available for us brown girls. I got sick of it and decided I needed to try and make my own roles then.
Sabrina: That’s honestly super refreshing to hear you say that.
Rani: I know! I feel like I’m finally able to talk about something I was too afraid to mention to people before. (stops herself before speaking) I also don’t want to take up any more of your time than I already have.
Sabrina: You’re all good, I don’t really have anywhere I need to be either.
Rani: Why don’t we go ahead and start then, just so we have time to go over anything after too if we have to.
Rani: Okay great. Here’s a copy of the side, (Sheepishly) sorry I didn’t have any copies available beforehand, I didn’t know that was something we were supposed to do.
Sabrina: That’s fine, I brought my own copy just in case.
Rani: Oh awesome, okay, I’ll have you start at the top of page 21, at the line where Maricruz comes in with the boxes. I’ll read for your scene partner, so whenever you’re ready, go ahead and begin.
Sabrina nods as she begins to collect herself. She closes her eyes and takes three deep breaths. On the last breath she slowly opens her eyes and there is a noticeable difference in how she presents herself. It is like she is a different person. When she finally opens her mouth to speak, it is like someone else is speaking that wasn’t in the room before. She allows herself to become immersed in the role as she continues to find life as a new being. Rani watches her in amazement, unable to believe her luck at finding someone who so effortlessly embodies the character that she created.
Rani: That was great Sabrina, really, it was.
Sabrina: Thank you.
Rani: Can I ask you something?
Sabrina: Yeah, sure, totally.
Rani: What was going through your head just now, I mean, If I’m being honest, I didn’t recognize you. It was like I was watching a different person entirely.
Sabrina: I don’t know, I feel like with this character, someone who has had to work so hard to get next to nothing in return, someone like her would just think of a way to keep her head above water. She’s always thinking of the next move cause she can’t afford not to and I guess in a weird way, I really relate to that. For the most part, I was just thinking about what I would do if I was in her situation.
Rani: That’s a lovely answer.
Sabrina: (Smiles) Thanks. Could I ask you something?
Rani: I guess it’s only fair
Sabrina: What made you want to write this?
Rani: Well actually, I heard about most of these stories when I was in high school and they always stuck with me. You know nowadays you hear about how immigrants and migrant workers are treated and there’s a horrible feeling that you get inside because you can’t do anything to help them. This is my way of raising awareness of these issues while also letting people know not to forget where their produce comes from. That, plus I’m also part Mexican, so I kinda wanted to rep my people a little bit too.
Sabrina: I’m part Mexican too!
Rani: Oh no way, a fellow Chicana!
Sabrina: Yeah and proud of it!
The two girls laugh together with the mutual joy of being able to relate with another. They are both feeling as if they had known each other forever.
Rani: You know, I’m really glad I met you today.
Sabrina: Me too, and I’m not just saying that cause this is an audition. I haven’t really felt like I belonged here because there was no one that I could relate to, until now. That’s honestly why I took a year off, so I could figure out if this (gestures around her) was something I actually wanted to do because I didn’t feel like I was allowed to in a way.
Rani: This is gonna sound weird, and you know, maybe it’s the superstitious Mexican in me, but I feel like us meeting is kinda like fate.
Sabrina: I would have to say, I definitely agree with you on that. Not weird at all.
Rani: Thank you for auditioning by the way, I was really worried no one would come and I would look stupid for even trying to put this show on.
Sabrina: (With a smile) Are you kidding? Thanks for letting me audition, no matter what I’m really excited for this show and I think a lot more people are going to be too.
Rani: I needed to hear that. (Beat) Well, I don’t want to keep you from enjoying the rest of your day, I’m good with what I got to see from you so you’re good to go! Great job again by the way.
Sabrina: Awesome, thank you! (goes to grab her purse) Hopefully I’ll see you around the halls sometime!
Rani: (Goes to open the door for her) That’d be nice, I’d love that.
Sabrina: See ya!
Rani: Bye, take care!
Sabrina exits leaving Rani alone in the room. Excitedly, she pulls out her cell phone and goes to make a call. She starts packing her stuff up, as she waits for the call to connect.
Rani: (To her phone) Hey mom. I got some good news. I think I just found the perfect person for the role. (Pause) Yeah, she was pretty cool and we actually have a lot in common. (Pause) Yeah, I don’t know why, but I have a really strong feeling that something great is going to come from this.
And with that, she finishes packing up her stuff and exits the room as the lights fade to black.
Formal Podcast Introduction
Sabrina: And there you have it, the story behind how we became best friends and artistic collaborators two years ago. It’s funny looking back and seeing where we both are now; it is quite telling that our friendship was built off of what would later become such a big part of our lives: combating racism in theatre.
Rani: That’s true! You know I always heard that to be a woman means you have to work twice as hard to get half as far in life compared to your male counterparts, but to be a BIPOC in theatre means you’re going to have to work even harder.
Sabrina: Yeah, it’s no secret that gender and racial disparity are rampant in many theatre institutions across the world. In fact, ProductionPro, an entertainment tech company, released their 2019 study titled “Broadway by the Numbers” which detailed the limited diversity between males and females working in the industry. The study showed that only 32% of the collective roles cast on Broadway stages were women and only 13% of directors were female identifying.
Rani: Another study done by The Asian American Performers Action Coalition in 2019 shows that BIPOC diversity in theatre institutions is on a rapid decline and Latinx performers alone decreased from 8% to only 2.9%.
Sabrina: The Summer of 2020 saw the emergence of the We See You White American Theater Movement (WSYWAT). Formed from the Black Lives Matter movement and the push for racial equity following a slew of police brutality incidents, the WSYWAT was established by some of the most notable BIPOC names on Broadway and in Hollywood as a way to put pressure on historically white theatre institutions across the country. Notable names such as Sandra Oh and Lin Manuel-Miranda released a statement detailing how white privilege and systemic racism have been tolerated for too long and have been widely accepted by many to be a common practice in the theatre industry.
Rani: This statement spread rapidly on social media and garnered 50,000 signatures of support in just the first 24 hours of its initial release. Later a full list of demands, nearly 30 pages, was released and detailed the efforts that were to be made by theatre and educational institutions in order to combat systemically racist practices and beliefs.
Sabrina: WSYWAT became a catalyst for us to enact change of our own, starting with our own school. We, along with a couple other students, created a student activist group aimed at establishing a culture of accountability and diversity within our learning institution. Through this, we have seen that our fight for equity and diversity is going to be hard fought, but not impossible. Join us as we reflect on the crazy experiences we’ve had as two, young, badass brown women just trying to navigate all the ups and downs of what life throws our way.
Rani: On our podcast UNCONVENTIONAL INGENUE-ity, we’ll be sharing our experiences as actor-vists, but our main goal is to provide a platform and safe-space for BIPOC artists who are struggling to feel like they belong in a community. We’ll be joined by some of our dearest friends and working professionals in the entertainment business to discuss spicy topics such as what it means to be a BIPOC in the theatre industry and how to properly, and realistically, plan for a career as a movie star.
Sabrina: If you’re lucky, you might be able to get us drunk enough to expose some of our most well-kept secrets during our filmed segment, “Tequila Theatre,” where we test out various brands of liquor while discussing anything and everything related to theatre.
Rani: Or if you prefer a more classy type of entertainment, we will be performing and discussing readings from some of the best plays written by BIPOC playwrights while also featuring original works by our fellow BIPOC student artists. No matter what, Unconventional Igenue-ity will have a little bit of everything to keep people on the edge of their seats.