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An interview with Stacie Lents

By Gary Wien

originally published: 01/22/2016

An interview with  Stacie LentsThe issue of race on college campuses is looked at from the perspective of two groups of roommates in the same dorm room, separated by 50 years, in Stacie Lents’ new play, College Colors.  The play has its world premiere this February at Crossroads Theatre in New Brunswick. Lents, who is director of acting and the Barn Theater at Fairleigh Dickinson University, is a professional playwright and actor.    New Jersey Stage spoke with her about the new play.

What is College Colors about?

College Colors moves back and forth between the stories of two sets of roommates--one in the sixties and one today--in the same dorm room on the same college campus. Each pair includes one white student and one black student who negotiate racial identity and racism in each time period. Hopefully, the twists and turns in the plot will surprise and satisfy the audience, so I won’t reveal them here, but I will say that above all, for me, College Colors is about friendship. Of course, it explores the constraints that racism and prejudice put on relationships. But, I hope, friendship is the hero of the piece.

I am fascinated by the ways in which our conceptions of self, of identity are stretched and made bigger by our relationships with others--and not just by romantic relationships or familial relationships, but by platonic ones. Friendship is so often the bridge between different cultures and experiences--and yet, so much of the time, it takes a backseat to romantic love in films and plays and books.

The play is called a comedy.  Is this a situation in which you use comedy to diffuse a rather sensitive topic?   

That’s a great question. I always feel that, as in life, many of the most painful and impossible situations provide the best platforms for humor. I think this is because human beings are resilient. We laugh at ourselves, at life, and even at our own pain. So, certainly there is a bit of that here. Because this play centers around two unlikely but important friendships, the characters help each other, and therefore the audience, find humor in that which would otherwise be almost unbearable. Of course, the play is not all funny; there are certainly some dark moments. But I would also say that the other reason that there is humor is because, ultimately, if I have done my job correctly, the play is hopeful. And that hope, that optimism allows for comedy.

The play takes place in the 1960s and the current time.  What sort of research did you do for the earlier timeframe?

I did a number of different kinds of research. In terms of formal research, I started with newspaper articles about the 1960’s and some of the topics covered by the scenes which take place during that time period. Although the events of the play are entirely fictional, they were inspired by actual events on Ivy League campuses in the Northeast during the sixties when desegregation was first taking place, so I read about that time. I also read novels and films from and about that time period to get a sense of the language and slang. (Some of the differences in usage are quite subtle and specific.) However, perhaps my best research came from speaking to people who went to college during that time period on campuses similar to the fictional campus of the play. My father went to Harvard and he was a wonderful dramaturg for the sixties scenes!

Did you see or experience any racism on campus during your college experiences? As a professor today, do you see or hear it from your students?

I myself was extremely fortunate in my own personal experience as an undergraduate. I am also lucky to teach in a place that values diversity and inclusion. That said, the events of the play speak to issues which are larger than one specific campus or one specific experience and they were inspired by the ideas and concerns of my own students. In fact, a very early version of this play was developed on the campus at FDU where I teach, as part of our Black History, Black Voices series and the response from the students and the administration was one of the factors in encouraging me to develop the play for the professional stage.



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When you compare the two time periods, do you see society being more tolerant or less tolerant of other races?  

One of the advantages--and reasons for--structuring the play this way is that it begs that comparison. Happily, much literal progress has been made. However, one theme which presented itself as I was writing is intolerance which disguises itself as progress; there are ways in which we lure ourselves into a false sense of security or self-congratulation about how far we have come. This is true both now and then. One of the other things the play also looks at is the sheer weight of history. Even when progress or change has been made, can you ever truly throw off the cultural memory of past wrongs, past prejudice? And how do you do that?

Finally, what do you hope the audience comes away with after seeing your play?

That’s always a hard one. There are many things I would love the audience to consider. I guess, most of all, I hope that the audience will leave thinking about the power (and imperfection) of friendship.  But really, I think that question is for the audience to answer -- and then they can tell me!

An interview with  Stacie Lents

 





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Event calendar
Saturday, Nov 17, 2018


MUSIC

THE GAY BLADES @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

HERMAN'S HERMITS STARRING PETER NOONE & THE BUCKINGHAMS @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 8:00pm

Nelson Riveros Trio: “The Latin Side of Wes Montgomery” @ Englewood Public Library, Englewood - 7:00pm

Hawaiian Music and Hula @ 1867 Sanctuary at Ewing, Ewing - 8:00pm

Pop 2000 Tour @ iPlay America, Freehold - 7:00pm

THE MACHINE PERFORMS PINK FLOYD @ The Strand Theater, Lakewood - 8:00pm

THE FAB FAUX A HARD DAY'S NIGHT AND REVOLVER IN THEIR ENTIRETIES @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 8:00pm

Todd Barry at SOPAC @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 8:00pm

Swamp Boogie Trio @ Lizzie Rose Music Room, Tuckerton - 7:30pm







THEATRE

Annie @ Broad Street United Methodist Church, Burlington - 8:00pm

An Actor's Carol @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 3:00pm and 7:30pm

Annie @ Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal Park - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

Apples In Winter @ Centenary Stage Company - Kutz Theater of the Lackland Center, Hackettstown - 8:00pm

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 8:00pm

Billy Bishop Goes to War @ Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum, Morristown - 2:00pm

Kiss Me Kate @ Broadway Theatre of Pitman, Pitman - 2:00pm and 8:00pm

Phoenix Productions Presents: The Hunchback of Notre Dame @ Count Basie Center For The Arts, Red Bank - 8:00pm

Enchanted April @ The Summit Playhouse, Summit - 8:00pm

Heathers, The Musical High School Edition @ Pebble Players, Oakes Center, Summit - 7:30pm

Junie B. Jones The Musical at Black Box PAC @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 11:00am

Into the Woods @ Studio Playhouse Upper Montclair, Upper Montclair - 8:00pm

The Drowsy Chaperone @ Lauren K. Woods Theatre at Monmouth University, West Long Branch - 8:00pm


COMEDY

Todd Barry at SOPAC @ South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), South Orange - 8:00pm


DANCE

BALLET FOLKLORICO DE MEXICO @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm


KIDS

ROALD DAHL’S WILLY WONKA JR. @ Ridgewood Ave School Theater, Glen Ridge - 1:00pm and 7:00pm


LECTURE

Mainebiz Health Care Forum @ Mainebiz Health Care Forum, Newyork - 8:00pm

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