Ohio University

OHIO students create new theater organization to amplify voices of BIPOC artists

Published: August 31, 2020 Author: Samantha Pelham

As the support to amplify BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) voices continues to grow, Ohio University students have created a new theater organization, Vibrancy Theater, directly aimed at providing a sustainable space for BIPOC student theater artists to have their stories heard and bring their artistry to the stage in an authentic way.

“I want Vibrancy Theater to be a place where BIPOC artists can thrive and explore without the everyday barriers of race coming into play,” KeShawn Mellon, a senior in the School of Theater and co-artistic director of Vibrancy Theater, said. “I want the exploration and the use of a person's race to be an option and want the company to have a community where BIPOC artists can learn and grow as much as everyone else.”

Multiple students from OHIO’s School of Theater came together wanting to create a better way for BIPOC students to be authentically represented on stage and for their work to be seen more.

Through conscious, inclusive and ethical staging of new and reimagined classics, Vibrancy Theater will explore major themes of humanity that challenge the dominant narrative, while providing a space and outlet to promote BIPOC playwrights, actors, designers, stage managers and directors.

“As a playwriting professor, a question I ask my students when studying a play is. ‘Whose story is it?’” Distinguished Professor of Theater/Playwriting Charles Smith said. “Often times people of color are not the central character or whose story gets told, and even when we do read a story that gives a voice to a person of color, those characters are almost acting like a prop in someone else’s story. When we read stories like this, a lot of these minor characters are still written from the perspective of a white individual, unable to really grasp what it’s like to be authentically Black. Vibrancy Theater is aiming to tell authentic BIPOC stories through the eyes of our BIPOC students, not the stories of white Americans who see the life and struggles of African Americans.”

Along with producing diverse works and artists, Vibrancy Theater hopes to build a community with other marginalized groups through explicit anti-racist procedures and practices in efforts to share a myriad of unique and culturally relevant theater that is reflective of the world we live in and dream of living in.  

“Vibrancy Theater is important for the Athens community because it creates a safe haven for the BIPOC students and people who haven't had one before,” Mellon added. “It gives BIPOC people an opportunity to see themselves in a different, positive light, while providing a way for the community members of Athens to be exposed to a world that isn't predominantly white. We have to provide space for BIPOC people and make them feel welcomed. I believe Vibrancy Theater is a way to do that.”

Students have frequently met via Zoom to discuss the vision of the company and have moved programming online amid the pandemic. Once it is safe to resume in-person performances and programming, Vibrancy plans to fill its season with original works from OHIO students and alumni.

Anyone, regardless of race, gender or background, is invited to get involved in the organization to help celebrate the stories of BIPOC people.

“I’m thoroughly impressed by the leadership our students have taken to create this professional theater and run it such as that,” Smith added. “They have done an extraordinary job coming together to identify how and why BIPOC voices need amplified and will certainly produce great works from artists of color.”

To support the Vibrancy Theater Fund, individuals can make an online donation by clicking here and choosing “Vibrancy Theater Fund-sp” in the “Choose a Fund” dropdown menu, or by making a mail-in gift. Checks for mail-in gifts should be payable to “Ohio University” with “Vibrancy Theater Fund” written in the memo line and can be mailed to: The Ohio University Foundation, PO Box 869, Athens, Ohio 45701-0869.