By Nadia Alfadel Coloma
Last night, DWN members got to enjoy a preview of “We are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, From the German Sudwesiafrika, between the years 1884-1915” at DePaul’s Theatre School on the Lincoln Park Campus. Members received complementary tickets to the show as part of DWN’s membership benefits. (Special thanks to Leslie Shook, theatre manager, for providing this opportunity.)
It was a cold Thursday night so I almost didn’t go, but I am so glad that I did. The truth is, it’s hard to break from routine, especially at the end of a work day when all you want to do is go home and get out of your work clothes. But once in a while, it’s good to step out of your usual pattern to enjoy an experience, so that every week is not a mere replica of the one before it.
I had no idea what to expect from this play. I had never heard of it, and the title was certainly unique. I found the description to be a bit vague, too. Please be advised that this show is for mature audiences, the invitation cautioned. I was intrigued. Also, I had never attended a show at DePaul’s Theatre School. The Fullerton Stage is a wonderful space—intimate and inviting, the seating is arranged as a semi-circle around the stage.
I will not give away details about this play so that you can go and experience it for yourself. Because it is an experience, one that shakes the emotions and stretches the mind. It is a play that provokes reflection, elicits strong (uncomfortable) emotion, deep emotion, and most significantly, sparks important dialogue.
By the end, when the lights went out and the actors disappeared from the stage, I was stunned—and so was everyone in the audience. My heart was racing as silence descended upon the stage. There was a post-show discussion that I stayed for, that almost everyone in the audience stayed for. We clearly all needed to process.
The play follows an ensemble of well-meaning actors who struggle to tell the story of a nearly forgotten African genocide that took place at the turn of the twentieth century. For one, this was new information to me. I had never heard of the Herero tribe and the terrible tragedy they suffered. The ensemble struggles to tell the story of the fate of the Herero because:
How can you tell the story of an oppressed people whose history has never been documented—from their perspective?
History is all facts, dates, figures. We rely on documentation to formulate and understand “what happened” in the past. But who is documenting the past? Whose perspective is narrating “what happened”? And that is the inherent issue the ensemble grapples with.
The people in power (in this case, the German conquerors) were the ones narrating the past. The history of the Herero genocide is thus based on their perspective, a privileged perspective.
When you have only one perspective, one narrative to a history, then that leaves the other side in perpetual oppression because their voices are ultimately never heard. The historical narrative is incomplete, leaving an entire people, in this case, the Herero, literally erased.
The play weaves in and out of present day America and colonial Namibia. It forces you to be a spectator to injustice. It makes you uncomfortable. And it does this because comfort, after all, breeds complacency.
It explores how society constructs systems that oppress one group and uplift another, all because of race and color.
Written by American playwrite Jackie Sibblies Drury, the play was first read at the Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago in April 2012.
This is a bold and powerful play that is especially important considering the context of our current political climate. I highly recommend it, though with the same caution that I received: this play is for mature audiences only. The cast, also, was excellent. I applaud them for delivering such a moving and difficult performance.
I have a newfound appreciation for the Theatre School and will certainly be back to enjoy other shows. (At the very least, I’ll be less likely to brush away the inter-office mail postcards that they send us every so often.) 🙂
“We are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, From the German Sudwesiafrika, between the years 1884-1915” will be playing February 10 through February 19 at the Theatre School. Get your tickets here.
Nadia Alfadel Coloma is the director of marketing and communications for DWN, and a communications and workforce specialist in DePaul’s division of Enrollment Management and Marketing.