Teresa McCormick Ertel interviews Chris Roberts, head of Stevenson University’s Theater Department, about their growing program and tackling the powerful drama, Miss Evers’ Boys.
Teresa: Tell me how you came to head the theatre department at Stevenson University, and a little about your program.
Chris: I have been in this department since 1982 and I became chair in 2002. Our department was Film/Video/Theatre, but we are in the process of splitting. Chris Reed heads film/video and I head the theatre. We have to go to MHEC first, but my proposal is to do a Theatre/Media performance major since no other college offers this program. But, without MHEC’s blessing , we are still a part of the film and video major. The good part is the film/video makers have a pool of actors and my actors have stage and media experience; but we hope to make this experience richer by splitting and getting more specialized courses when we split.
How involved are you with the productions?
I oversee all of the productions and I direct one show each year, usually a musical since that is my background.
How are shows and directors selected?
I choose the directors, which have always been my full time and adjunct faculty. We choose our shows based on the student talent we have.
How many shows do you do a year?
We have been doing three shows a year, but next year we are doing four.
Does Stevenson hold open auditions or cast students only?
My department is small still, so we have open auditions and I have cast many from the community, but try to use my students first.
You are in the midst of tech week for Miss Evers’ Boys, a drama based on the true story of the unethical Tuskegee experiments. Tell us about your cast.
My cast for Miss Evers’ Boys is comprised of one faculty member, five of my students and one actor who is a graduate of UMBC’s theatre program. Everyone is doing a wonderful job and it was one of the “boys” who brought this play to me since I felt our African-American actors were not getting enough stage time.
How have you, as director, approached this true tale of African-American sharecroppers who were victims of syphilis, as well as victims of a deceptive and cruel medical experiment? Have you met with challenges due to the sensitive subject matter?
My first challenge with this play is that I am a white female, so I asked my “boys” did they think I could do this justice. I got a resounding yes. I think I was more upset by this play at first than they were. I brought in a speaker to address the Jim Crow Laws and we watched the film, Something the Lord Made, to try and get a perspective of the history of the time and the prejudice of the time. We have had numerous heart to heart discussions and our diversity person on campus has been a tremendous help. I think my students are very talented and I couldn’t wait to do this play with them.
What would you like your audience to come away with?
I want the audience to first, know that this happened, and second to think twice before they point fingers at other leaders in other countries who have done atrocities to human beings and see what was going on right under their own noses. This study was a disgrace and a huge blemish not only on the medical community who allowed it, but the United States as well. What the hell were they thinking?
Miss Evers’ Boys begins its run tomorrow night March 22, and plays on March 23, 24, 28, 29, 30, 31 at 8 p.m. and March 25, 2012 at 2 p.m at Inscape Theatre -1525 Greenspring Valley Road, in Stevenson, MD. For more information, call (877) 468-6852. Here are directions
Feature Picture: The cast of Miss Ever’s Boys.