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FTT to perform play exploring racism, identity

| Wednesday, February 21, 2018

To kick off the spring semester, the Notre Dame Film, Television and Theatre (FTT) department will perform Karen Zacarias’ comedy “Native Gardens.” The play will be directed by FTT Director of Theatre, Kevin Dreyer and will run from Feb. 22 to Mar. 4 in the Philbin Studio Theater in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

“Native Gardens” tells the story of a Latinx couple and a white couple feuding over the fence marking the boundary between their backyards and explores a variety of current social and political issues.

“The barrier exists between two backyards as opposed to between two nations, but the polarities between the two couples are set up in virtually every way that’s possible,” Dreyer said. “There are flashpoints throughout, and they eventually culminate into a border war.”

Photo courtesy of Kevin Dreyer

Maria Amenabar Farias, left, and George Azarate, right, rehearse for an upcoming production of “Native Gardens.” The comedy explores cultural divisions in the context of a fence dividing two backyards.

First year master of arts student George Azarate, who plays Pablo, one of the lead characters, said the play addresses questions of intersectionality and identity.

“There are these two ideas of how others see you and how you see yourself and realizing that your reality might not be everyone else’s reality,” Azarate said.

Sophomore Maria Amenabar Farias, who plays Pablo’s wife Tania, said the play looks at racial and cultural divides and the importance of frequently addressing these issues.

“No one is ever a hundred percent right or wrong,” Amenabar Farias said. “It’s about having that discussion about what racism is and what is or is not okay to say. It’s about how words affect people and actions affect people, and it’s about recognizing privilege which is a real thing that exists.”

Azarate said although the show is a comedy, the plot also explores where people fit in social structures.

“It’s lighthearted and it’s funny, but it’s also very profound,” Azarate said. “In this back–and–forth dialogue there are so many layers to this play, and for my character, his relationship with his wife and then his relationship with a neighbor shapes who he is.” 

“Native Gardens” was chosen by the FTT department as part of a deliberate effort to showcase diverse shows and casts.

“We have been very consciously for a number of years now trying to make sure that in our season selection process we look very carefully at representation of underrepresented voices,” Dreyer said.

Although the FTT department has a longstanding policy of casting roles in such a way that a performer’s race does not affect an individual’s consideration for a role, the department wants their shows to resonate more with minority groups by choosing shows with written-in diverse characters, Dreyer said.

In striving for better representation in the theater, Dreyer said FTT is also committed to presenting work from diverse playwrights.

“For a long time we were the theater of dead white guys; that’s the tradition around here. You look to the classics and the things that are tried and true, which happens across a lot of the departments,” Dreyer said. “There’s room for dead white guys, but there’s room for everybody else as well.”

Dreyer, Azarate and Amenabar Farias all hope “Native Gardens” will help audience members recognize their own flaws, but even more, the importance of recognizing those shortcomings.

“I want the audience to laugh at themselves and the people around them. I want them to recognize we all have our quirks and we all have our own perspectives,” Dreyer said. “But as long as we only look at our own perspectives, we are going to wind up in arguments like the people in the show.”

Amenabar Farias said she believes theater ultimately helps people open their minds and consider a variety of issues.

“We introduce an audience to a new world which makes people think,” Amenabar Farias said. “There’s some magic in theater, you feel like you’re there and the fact that anything can go wrong at any point makes it very organic. I just think that’s beautiful, and it’s something people should come and experience.”

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