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–May 6 at Cornell's Schwartz Center, references true events, including 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 reexamine her complacent naiveté 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. The Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies program is cosponsoring the performance. Sarah K. Chalmers, Civic Ensemble's director of civic engagement and co-artistic director, directs the cast of Cornell undergraduates.
"Baltimore gives us an opportunity to unpack the complexities underlying conversations about race," says Chalmers. "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 are in the Schwartz Center's Kiplinger Theatre April 28–29 & May 5–6 at 7:30 p.m., and May 6 at 2:00 p.m.