Three men stand in a line, one by one proclaiming themselves to be a “rice-eater,” “bean-eater” and “watermelon-eater.” They represent archetypical stereotypes of their respective races, referring to themselves by the same names that their show is titled: N*gger, Wetb*ck and Ch*nk. Before shouting “racist,” consider its tagline: “Relax … it’s just a comedy.”
As surprising as it may seem, it’s not just a comedy – there’s a moral message attached, rooted in expelling these derogatory terms and showing the individuals behind them.
“We’re trying to sort of neutralize and break down the stereotypes that are associated with three words: n-gger, wetb-ck and ch-nk,” said Christopher Chell, a graduate assistant for the Office of Multicultural Activities (OMA). “The performers do a really good job of doing that during the performance while also re-introducing the evolution and origin of race as it has existed and how it exists (today).” The performance, commonly referred to as NWC, takes place tonight at 8 in the upper gym of the Campus Recreation Center. It blends a series of scripted skits with moments of improvisation, ending with a question-and-answer forum to get students thinking about the issues behind the comedy.
“It starts off really funny, and they use those words (in the title), and then throughout the skits it gets more serious, and by the end they de-power those words while talking to the audience,” said Joseph McGibboney, a graduate program advisor for Campus Activities Board (CAB). “It’s very hands-on.”
The skits also vary in the style they’re presented, from stand-up to slam poetry to hip-hop.
“Theater covers very old, dinosaur topics that don’t speak to our generation,” said Rafael Agustin, who plays Wetb*ck. “We wanted to create theater not only for people of color, but theater for our generation. It’s very fast-paced, very energetic. We threw together a bunch of genres, so when people come to NWC they don’t think of it as a play, they think of it as a show. There’s prose, drama, poetry and stand-up comedy.
“We’re getting a diverse audience to laugh together. We’re using comedy to create community.”
The three actors co-wrote the play while attending UCLA, with the help of two of their former professors. Through NWC the actors explore race’s effect on America in a humorous way to cultivate change more positively, without anger or tension.
“The message of NWC is that there’s only one race: the human race,” Agustin said. “We want people to understand that we’re all human beings first, and then we can go on from there. We don’t believe in the concept of race because it’s a social construct. I think that race is the most powerful word in our whole play. People ask what’s the most powerful word – n-gger, wetb-ck or ch-nk? I say, ‘Neither – it’s race,’ because as soon as we divide ourselves into races, we’re saying that we’re really different.”
“Through the ‘List Game,’ we list stereotypes that are commonly made for our ethnicities. We start out with our differences, but then we find in the end that there are similarities that we all share as human beings that bring us together,” said Allan Axibal, who plays Ch-nk.
CAB and OMA came together to co-sponsor the event after members of both groups saw the performance in Boston at a conference.
“At the National Association for Campus Activities Conference they were the only act to get a standing ovation,” McGibboney said. “It was very powerful for me to experience.”
While NWC offers a tamer promotional ad that refers to the performance as “NWC: The Race Show,” CAB and OMA decided to display the more controversial one to grab students’ attention.
“We’re pretty much just trying to play up the shock value and get people to go, ‘Hey, what’s that about?'” CAB Special Events Director Temeka Williams said. “I know a lot of people were probably like, ‘What the heck?’ when they first saw the posters, but now I just hear about how excited people are – they want to know what it’s all about.”
The racial slurs comprising NWC’s title not only grab people’s attention and make them want to know more, but also can cause a mixture of confusion and anger.
“Sometimes people assume the worst, and sometimes people see it for what it is – the irony, the shock and the attempt to change,” Axibal said. “When we first did the show at UCLA, we had these posters up that said, ‘N-gger, Wetb-ck, Ch-nk,’ and they’d be vandalized in interesting ways, like sometimes people would cross out n-gger and leave wetb-ck and ch-nk, as if they weren’t just as bad. Some had all the names crossed out and replaced with their own slurs or ‘honky, honky, honky’ because they didn’t know who wrote it.”
Two sample videos, such as the “List Game” skit, can be viewed on NCW’s Web site, nwclive.com, or through YouTube.com.
To better cement NWC’s underlying message, a residency course similar to the one held for Critically Minded will be held today at 10 a.m. in Phyllis P. Marshall Center room 296.
“The performers themselves are very educated in their fields, and they’ll be teaching the students the value of what the message is as presented in the performance,” Chell said.
There will also be a follow-up discussion on Friday in Campus View East of the Marshall Center at 6 p.m. It will focus on how students’ outlooks have been changed – in a positive or negative way – after viewing the performance.
“The discussion afterward is all about reflection,” Chell said.
“What did you learn, what do you think about the message that was sent, and what’d you think about these stereotypes before and after are all topics to discuss. We’re really trying to combat the controversy by turning this into a learning experience. It’s not just about the performance.”
The event is free and open to the public.