'Baltimore' confronts racial tensions on college campuses

By: Lindsey White,  Performing & Media Arts
April 25, 2017

A racist caricature drawn on a freshman dorm room door is the catalyst that precipitates intense discussions and confrontations about race in “Baltimore.” The play by Kirsten Greenidge, which runs April 28 to May 6 at Cornell’s Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, references the riots in Ferguson, the Black Lives Matter movement and the deaths of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland.

Central to the play is Shelby, a resident adviser at the New England college where one of her residents is the target of the racist drawing. The incident challenges Shelby, played by Chisom Awachie ’17, to re-examine her complacency about living in a post-racial society.

“Shelby was raised believing that you can brush off any aggression, micro or otherwise,” says Awachie of her character. “She literally, physically never learned how to speak about race issues, what it means to be black in America. Over the course of the story, she has to come to terms with the fact that ignoring institutionalized and systematic racism in this country doesn’t mean that it won’t continue to affect you.”

“Baltimore” marks the second annual collaboration by the Department of Performing and Media Arts and Ithaca’s Civic Ensemble.

“‘Baltimore’ gives us an opportunity to unpack the complexities underlying conversations about race,” says Sarah K. Chalmers, Civic Ensemble’s director of civic engagement and co-artistic director, who directs the cast of Cornell undergraduates. “The play goes beyond the binary of black and white race relations and asks us larger questions about racial identity, personal accountability and how we address racism in our communities.”

Performances of “Baltimore” in the Schwartz Center’s Kiplinger Theatre are April 28-29 and May 5-6 at 7:30 p.m., and May 6 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for students, seniors and Cornell faculty, staff, students and alumni, available at schwartztickets.com or at the Schwartz Center box office. Free tickets are available for those who could not otherwise attend the play. Call the Civic Ensemble at 607-241-0195 for more information and help with transportation for groups.

The play is co-sponsored by the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies program.

This story also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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