Have you ever heard of the Little Black Samba myth? It is quintessentially a racist story about a little African boy who has his clothes stolen by tigers, causing them to fight with each other and spin around in a circle until they melt into butter. And then the little boy eats the butter with his bread.
This weekend”s Basement Art”s performance, “Spinning Into Butter” takes its name from this myth. It is a drama about an African-American college student who forces the campus and its administration to come to grips with their feelings about racism and perhaps even discover the racist feelings within themselves.
Simon Brick, the African-American student, does this by sending racially threatening and malicious notes to himself, even going so far as to throw things at his own window under the guise of racism. This destroys the administration”s perception of their perfect school, disrupting their lives with the chaos that ensues on campus and in their minds. Brick creates life-changing events out of something fictitious, essentially making something out of nothing, like the name of the play suggests.
The controversial events of “Spinning Into Butter,” written by Rebecca Gilman, and presented by Basement Arts, are based on actual incidents that occurred at Middlebury College in the early-“90s. The play is set at fictitious Belmont College in Vermont, described as a typical small, liberal arts school on the East coast where the campus is primarily Caucasian
The lead role of Sarah Daniels, the Dean of the School, is portrayed by BFA junior, Thaura Henning. She discovers herself through the events going on at Belmont college and eventually comes to terms with her own racism. Henning described the process of learning this play as being “very challenging for the whole cast because we want to make it realistic, not trite. It”s a play that is probably going to hit a few nerves.”
This is not just a performance about racism, but also a very emotionally centered performance about the characters that discover really who they are in terms of the things that have occurred on their campus. “The characters are forced to deal with their perception of race in the light of political correctness and who they are through this ordeal,” said Henning.
“Spinning Into Butter” is a play with a social message and not one that is accusing anyone, but rather forces the audience to think a lot about the issues it brings up.
One of the topical concerns explored in the play is diversity, which is applicable to the University, as it contends with the debate and controversy over Affirmative Action. This is one of the reasons why director Brian Lobel, the director of the play chose to do it.
Basement Arts is a student-run theater company, one of the few that is actually subsidized by the University of Michigan Department of Theater and Drama. With everyone on the executive board as a type of theater major, Basement Arts is very committed to quality and excellence in the shows they choose and perform. “Spinning Into Butter” is the first Basement Arts show in many years that deals with racism and the emotions it unleashes.