On Thursday, Nov. 1, the UNCG School of Theater presented the play “We Are Proud To Present A Presentation About The Herero of Namibia” on campus in the Sprinkle Theater on Tate Street. The play was directed by Calandra Hackney, who is an artist and an educator with a B.A. in Theatre Education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She also received her M.F.A. in Performance from Roosevelt University’s College of Performing Arts in Chicago.
The performance was educational, entertaining and at times serious. The play centers around a group of actors researching the genocide of a tribe of people in Africa known as the Herero of Namibia. This historical event took place from 1904 through 1908, but the oppression between the African people and the Germans goes back even farther than that, to when the Germans first started colonizing in Namibia.
This colonization fueled the people of Namibia to rebel against the colonial rule. Unfortunately, the tribe of people had been defeated and suffered brutal hardships by the Germans. The Germans used concentration camps, where people would die of starvation, diseases and abuse, making this the first genocide of the twentieth century.
In the performance, the actors discuss what might have taken place during those harsh and tragic times, taking the audience on a trip through history. There were times that the play went from comedic to suddenly serious, not hiding or holding back the truth of this tragedy that has left an impact on the world. It has been a reminder of the inhumane brutality of this dark era.
Even after the slave trade and slavery had been abolished during this time, that didn’t stop the oppression andbrutality that the Germans or the other Europeans inflicted upon not only the people of Namibia, but many other tribes in Africa as well.
The actors did an exceptional job of staying in character and bringing to life the horrors of this great tragedy in history. At times, it was quite serious and educational, as they would take the audience back through time to envision what it was like for both sides. However, some moments in the performance weren’t as critical, and there were random but amusing moments filled with humor.
Not only were the actors taking the audience back in time and envisioning what could be interpreted to have happened back then, it also felt like they were detectives trying to solve a mystery to find out more facts about the Herero people, even if they didn’t have any documents or records coming from their perspective.
The ending of the performance was a bit anticlimactic, as the actors walked off stage one by one with little closure, leaving the audience questioning the ending. What did it mean? Was there an underlying message or meaning? At that moment, the lights came on, and a specific song began to play in the background, slowly becoming recognizable as “This is America” by Childish Gambino.
The song addresses the issues that America is facing right now, such as gun violence and discrimination. Perhaps the symbolism around these issues that the actors were talking about haven’t been resolved completely, and this is only one historical tragedy that has left a scar on the world.
In an interview with Joshua Ritter, M.F.A., the Theatre Manager and a part of the production of the play, he explained that what drew him to work on this project was what the play tackled when it came to addressing issues in the world today.
“This is a show that deals with some poignant issues, and really is a deep and profound show that challenged the audience— and also as a great acting challenge with the people involved,” says Ritter. He continues to state how the play addresses certain aspects of issues, stating “It was sort of poignant and important and dealt with some important issues like race, the way we interpret history and things like that.”
“In terms of promoting it, a lot of people have written about the genocide that took place in Africa. One of the most important acts of the show is that it brings attention to that genocide,” Ritter says, speaking about what he hopes people would take from this performance. He continues to state how the show addresses the issues of the past, as well as some in the present and brings awareness to this tragic event in history.
In another interview with actor Aaron Botts, he explained why he thought the director choose to make this play. “[The] important thing about the comedy is that it draws you in. You’re more relaxed and then more serious. It gets you kind of like, ‘am I supposed to be laughing or am I not supposed to be laughing?’” He continues to say, “I think the comedy is important, it keeps you invested to a point where it’s not just a serious piece.”
According to Botts, when it came to the anticlimactic ending, he concluded that it was an important piece to the play. “There was definitely symbolism as far as what she [Hackney] was trying to do. I don’t know but I think it makes you ask questions like, ‘when is it okay, can we move on?’ and it’s not easy— and at what point will we actually talk about it?” says Botts.
The performance was great, bringing awareness to one of the first genocides in history as it addressed the fact that some of these issues still exist today. It left the audience with the burning question— will we ever come to terms with what happened in the past and can we ever move forward from this tragic part of history?