BlackCAST’s daring success.
From the minds of five Harvard students comes Black Magic, a bold new original play premiering on the Loeb Mainstage at the American Repertory Theater. The idea for Black Magic took seed following a year of campus protests across the nation concerning the inequalities students of color face at their respective universities. The Harvard Black Community and Student Theater group (BlackCAST) has long provided students of color with a greater opportunity to be involved in theater and seeks to showcase experiences to which black students can relate. Just as Harvard faculty came together with peer institutions to take a stand against these injustices, Harvard students came together to write, produce, direct, and create an original play. Brilliant art is often born out of struggle, and Black Magic is brilliant art. With audience members including the likes of President Drew Faust and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, Junot Diaz, it marks the beginning of a new era of activism and social justice on Harvard’s campus.
Black Magic chronicles the lives of black college students during the Black Lives Matter movement, in which Harvard students played an active role this past year. The play discusses intersectionality – exploring concepts race, sexuality, and gender on a campus where students face racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. Black Magic focuses on the narratives of five Harvard students, but the number of students behind the creation and development of the show is much larger. Black Magic was written over winter break, as Ian Askew ‘19, Jenny Gathright ‘16, Madison Johnson ‘18, Darius Johnson ‘18, and Matsuda-Lawrence communicated regularly to coalesce their ideas. Kimiko Matsuda-Lawrence ’16 directed. Black Magic began with a vague concept proposed by Matsuda-Lawrence to showcase the many different experiences of black students on Harvard’s campus. The show, however, has pulled in staff members, actors, and writers who previously were not involved with BlackCAST but who were considered to be individuals with strong experiences in activism that would strengthen the narrative. While a couple of the writers may have originally been heavily involved with Renegade, a Harvard publication that advocates for students of color, the production is primarily that of BlackCAST and not formally in collaboration with any other student group.
BlackCAST is not always guaranteed a space to perform. In the past semester, the group collaborated with the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club (HRDC) to present A Raisin in the Sun and Clybourne Park in the Loeb Experimental Theater. However, last spring, the group was unable to secure a space. Since the group is small, not having a space to perform means that BlackCAST will not have a performance for the semester. However, from April 1 to 9, the 540-seat Loeb Mainstage presents a play entirely by BlackCAST for the first time in years. Loeb Mainstage productions have not always portrayed the stories and issues that resonate with minority groups, let alone focus on them. “It’s time for black students to take over the biggest stage on Harvard’s campus to tell a multidimensional story about being black on campus in the context of a nationwide struggle for justice,” proclaims its creators. Securing one of the biggest and most sought-after theater spaces on Harvard’s campus has allowed Black Magic and its message to reach even beyond the Harvard community.
Our illustrious leader, President Drew Faust made sure to be among the audience opening night. Her presence is notable amidst the current calls for increased administrative recognition of students of color experiences and organizations. It is the hope of many students that President Faust’s attendance will lead to more administrative presence in support of such events and projects. “It’s appreciated and we hope she enjoys it and takes something important away from it, but we hope that this isn’t the only time that a high-level Harvard administrator will come to an event. We hope that something comes of it and her peers do something to support minority groups on campus and regularly come out to physically support the things that minority groups on campus are doing,” says writer, Darius Johnson ‘18. Administrators have much power to support activism on campus. Black Magic may enrich the ways in which administrators will interpret racial events, protests, and issues on campus.
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Junot Diaz will also be amongst the thousands of audience members who will view Black Magic during its run on Loeb Mainstage. Diaz, who has made a career in writing about the same issues that on which BlackCAST focuses, shared information about the performance over his Facebook page. In his Facebook post, Diaz notes that he looks forward to seeing the play, and he has also been in contact with the producers to further express his support. To have such a prominent figure of the queer, minority community endorse the play has further emphasized the power that Black Magic has in reaching out to more of the Harvard community, as well as students on campuses nationwide.
Although Black Magic is very much an exception in the Harvard theater community, it is the hope of BlackCAST and its supporters that this production will catalyze change. “With Black Magic, we’ve brought a lot of black people into the theater that wouldn’t typically have considered themselves theater people. We hope more people of color on campus do similar projects and break the stereotype that black people don’t care about art, and that right now the lack of participation is because the stories being portrayed aren’t all that relevant or pertinent to us,” says Darius Johnson ‘18. BlackCAST has begun to alleviate the pressure of such stereotypes in order to inspire students to spearhead bolder creative projects. As a recipient of the Open Harvard grant, Black Magic is an excellent example of not only a successful initiative aiming to increase awareness and inclusivity, but also of bringing together students and leaders whose passion drives innovation and progress.
Opening night boasted a packed house. Though the five individual writers struggled to merge many different ideas together in one script while balancing the length, the performance was able to showcase the varied intersectional experiences of black students on Harvard’s campus because of the communal effort in writing. The audience’s reception of the play was both positive and thoughtful. The viewing sparked many discussions in the hours afterward that affirms BlackCAST’s value of the project and the concerns it meant to address.
Black Magic presents the narratives that students of color have not been able to find in other popular productions that dominate the theater community. Elevating the relatable and relevant discussions of students of color is an invitation to create more of such projects. Not only does the performance unite together minority students, but also exposes the entire student body to the issues that minority students are facing on our campus and others nationwide. The support of Harvard administrators and key figures who have been recognized for their work in representing the culture and communities of minority groups makes Black Magic a powerful and bold performance that inspires us all.
Hunter Richards ’18 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is both inspired by and proud of this work of her classmates.