The 1960’s were a time of political turbulence, drugs, and revolution. Last weekend, UTM’s third-year Theatre and Drama students performed a collectively created piece called We The People, directed by Rachel Blair and as part of Theatre Erindale’s Studio Series. The production examines student protests and other issues that were prominent in the 60’s, including college protests at Berkeley and Kent State, feminism, racism, LGBTQ+ issues, and the anti-war movement.
We The People is a 90-minute play that consisted of several smaller stories based on real-life events of the 1960’s. Each of these stories center around university-aged students who are trying to make a difference in the world by ultimately just being themselves and unconfined by norms and expectations of past generations.
One story depicted the student occupation of Sproul Hall at Berkeley in 1964. This protest was in response to the university administration’s refusal to accept student political groups and views. It was a peaceful protest for free speech. It was a great moment of unison and solidarity at the beginning of the play that really solidified the show’s message of standing up and standing together.
The play also examined gender roles in the 60’s in which women were typically expected to be housewives and not pursue work. One scene that struck out for me took place in a university classroom where male students read the traditional roles of women (such as cooking, cleaning, looking nice) from a textbook as assigned reading. The women in the class tried to object but they were ignored. This was powerful because there were twice as many females as males in the cast.
The males in the cast took on the issues surrounding the Vietnam war. All of them received letters informing that they had been drafted. In a lighter moment, each of the men takes a minute to tell the audience how they can dodge the draft. The scene culminated in a fun song, which summarized how to be a draft dodger. The anti-war movement continues throughout the play as the women get involved and the anti-war protests become larger and louder.
The use of hand-painted signs signified when a new story was taking place, which was helpful due to the recurring themes throughout the stories. While the stories may have occurred at different times and places throughout the decade and affected different people, the stories were nicely woven together by common threads of racism, feminism, and LGBTQ+ issues to make one coherent piece.
The production was light and comedic at times with dark, serious undertones. There were songs and chants, sung acapella, spread throughout the play. All music was made by the cast with percussive hand clapping, foot stomping, or rhythmically hitting the floor and boxes, which was very clever and well done. There was also a single acoustic guitar used for a few songs. There were also many moments when multiple actors were speaking in unison, which was a great way to emphasize what they were saying. The company also chose to incorporate quotes from well-known figures, who are known for fighting for social change in order to drive their point home.
We The People took serious issues such as women’s rights and racism and handled them with care and grace without downplaying them as “that’s just how things were back then.” It was also interesting to learn about these individual events and protests that occurred throughout the 1960’s from a historical point of view. Several issues addressed in the play are still issues today. It makes you consider where we are now compared to where we were then. What has changed. What is similar. This play challenges young people to stand up and make a difference. It asks the question, if not now, when? and if not me, who?
Theatre Erindale’s We The People ran from February 7-10.