What does it mean to re-vision a popular musical with theatre artists of color? Students at Bowie State University have set out to do just that with their latest production of Little Shop of Horrors. We got the scoop from students and faculty about their vision.
Elena Velasco, Director and BSU Theatre Professor, said:
“Bowie State University is Maryland’s oldest HBCU, one that fosters an innovative environment and is a proudly student-centered community. Because we have a small program, we are able to devote time and energy in building productions that have a high level of student leadership, closely mentoring the next generation of artists of color.”
“Central to this mission is the need for theatre to reflect our students’ voices, experiences and perspectives – representation is key. We know that representation in American theatre needs to grow, particularly in Broadway musicals. Our students need to see themselves in roles and narratives that have traditionally not featured people of color and claim these roles for themselves.”
“It may sound simple, but when the marketing materials you receive for major shows have character descriptions that describe characters as white and graphics that only feature white performers in leading roles, it becomes obvious that change is needed.”
“The vision for the BSU Little Shop of Horrors does not attempt to alter anything from the text as written, but rather we are using this opportunity for students to make this world their own. What does shift is the way that the music, movement and characterizations are shaped and performed. BSU’s Little Shop of Horrors is the wonderfully dynamic, high energy and comic story by Ashman and Menken and our students are the heroes of that world.”
Gabrielle Hawkins, a BSU Theatre and Dance Major who choreographed the production and also stars as Audrey, added:
“There are so many shows that are traditionally cast and performed with predominantly white or non-POC casts. I want that stigma—that expectation—to be broken. Artists of color deserve more chances to be cast in roles that do not need to be cast as a specific race.”
“I’d like to emphasize the fact that BSU takes the material that is given and expounds on it. With the help of our director we have been able to develop our characters and turn them into who they are to us. Personally, I have learned something new each time I am working. That is something I enjoy, making discoveries every moment and every day.”
“I hope to see change in the theatre world as it regards to the shows that people of color do.”
The show’s Mr. Mushnik—BSU Theatre Major Rashaud Matthews—elaborated:
“If there was one thing that I would like to emphasize on the approach, it would be our gender reversal for the man-eating plant. Traditionally, the plant is played by a male. In our campy world of Skid Row, our plant is a woman. It changes the tone and nature of the show to something interesting and magical.”
“The one thing that I would hope see change is the stereotype of blacks in musicals. To say the least, not all blacks are soulful singers. There are blacks who desire to play roles like Danny from Grease, or Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors. I don’t like that because we are of color we are shoved into these boxes of ‘soul’ and not all of us are like that.”
Broderick Pitts, the BSU Music Tech Major who is stepping into the role of Dr. Orin Scrivello, DDS, says:
“The few programs that exist are often starved of funding and barely holding on. There’s too much talent in this forgotten demographic for the opportunity to perform not to be present.”
Shalom Omo-Osagie, a BSU Theatre Major playing the role of Ronette, chimed in:
“I hope to see and be a part of a change in the way people of color are perceived in theatre and the roles they portray.”
BSU Theatre will present their re-visioned take on Little Shop of Horrors, directed by Professor of Theater Arts Elena Velasco, from November 14 – 17, 2019. With set design by Kathryn Kawecki, puppet design by Greg Murphy, lighting design by Lorenzo Henriquez, costume design by Chi-Chi Anozie, music direction by Levar Betts and stage managed by Ryan Anthony, this BSU production is a good bet for a fun time in Bowie.
Little Shop of Horrors plays through November 17, 2019, at the Fine & Performing Arts Center, Main Stage Theater, Bowie State University—14000 Jericho Park Road in Bowie, Maryland. Tickets can be purchased online.