‘We are Proud to Present…’ Opens Muhlenberg's Theatre & Dance SeasonOpening Sept. 29, Jackie Sibblies Drury’s play offers a theatrical look at race and storytelling through the lens of the 20th century’s first genocide.
By: Sarah Wedeking '24 Monday, September 26, 2022 05:04 PM
The first show in the Muhlenberg College Theatre & Dance season takes a hard look at the intersections of theatre, storytelling and race. Jackie Sibblies Drury’s “We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884–1915” tells an often forgotten part of history. The play is dramatic and often challenging, says director Nigel Semaj — but also very funny.
“We Are Proud to Present…” focuses on six actors who gather to tackle the challenge of theatrically presenting the little-known story of the first genocide of the 20th century: the extinction of the Herero tribe at the hands of their German colonizers. Armed only with love letters from German soldiers, they test their own limits of empathy as their own biases and stories begin to seep into the theatrical process.
“It has been some of the most challenging acting work I’ve ever done,” says Bryson Brunson ’25, who plays Actor 4. “And it’s been so rewarding at every turn.”
The show runs Sept. 29 – Oct. 2, in Muhlenberg's Baker Theatre, in the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance.
Through producing a play, the characters realize that it’s not about a presentation anymore. It’s about the theatrical process, according to Nigel Semaj, the director of the production and a member of Muhlenberg's theater faculty.
“The audience doesn't necessarily see the difficulties of the process, how hard it is to create a production,” Semaj says. “When you have something informative and important, sometimes, unfortunately, it is the product of an unruly process.”
Difficult conversations are a trademark of this play, according to Semaj. Beneath all the comedy, are questions that demand answers.
“When we start to question the world, we start to understand it a little bit more, we start to unravel the layers of society and the norms that we have been taught and have been thrust on to us,” Semaj says. “We learn to challenge them. And by challenging them, we might learn to change them.”
There will be a facilitated reflection after each performance, to help process these difficult conversations found in the show.
Community is a huge part of the process and presentation as well. Due to the difficult material of the play, Semaj and the ensemble sought to create a supportive and safe rehearsal space. This involved checking in with each other, restorative practices, and support from the Counseling Center.
“We can't collaborate on creating a piece that is a behemoth of a play if we don't have community with one another,” Semaj says.
“The care and the support that's coming to us as actors is beautiful,” Brunson says. “As an actor, it's been really enlightening to learn about the boundaries you can set in such a way, to say, ‘I'm not okay with this.’”
Although the play demands a lot of the cast and crew, Brunson says it’s a “fun and funny” show.
“You're gonna have a good time, no matter what,” Brunson says. “And if you leave with some lingering questions about yourself and the world at large and identity, that's theater.”
Performances of “We Are Proud… ” are on Sept. 29 – Oct 2: Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday & Sunday at 2 p.m in the Baker Theatre. Tickets are $15 for regular admission, $8 for youth, and $8 for Muhlenberg and LVAIC students, faculty, and staff. Tickets are available online at muhlenberg.edu/seeashow or by phone at 484-664-3333.
About the Muhlenberg College Theatre & Dance Department
Muhlenberg offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theatre and dance. The Princeton Review ranked Muhlenberg’s theatre program in the top twelve in the nation for eight years in a row, and Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theatre and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theatre and dance.
About Muhlenberg College
Founded in 1848, Muhlenberg is a highly selective, private liberal arts college offering baccalaureate and graduate programs. With an enrollment of nearly 2,000 students, Muhlenberg College is dedicated to shaping creative, compassionate, collaborative leaders through rigorous academic programs in the arts, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences; selected preprofessional programs, including accounting, business, education and public health; and progressive workforce-focused post-baccalaureate certificates and master’s degrees. Located in Allentown, Pennsylvania, approximately 90 miles west of New York City, Muhlenberg is a member of the Centennial Conference, competing in 23 varsity sports. Muhlenberg is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.