The latest production from the University of Louisville’s African American Theater Program and Department of Theater Arts is a look at the year 2269, when the concepts of race and ethnicity were banned.
“Afromemory”, by Teshonne Powellturns to Playhouse Theater until Sunday.
Professor and Chair of the Theater Arts Department, Nefertiti Burton, conducted the show. She said the play was “written in the context of Afrofuturism”, in a society that “erased the notion of race, the notion of difference, culture and ancestry”.
“Kind of like we’re one, and we look to the future, and we’re not even allowed to discuss the past…and the protagonist struggles with something she doesn’t quite understand, but she knows it’s kind of a void in her life,” Burton continued.
This is how the play begins. And as the story unfolds, the protagonist begins to discover her identity, who she really is.
The UofL mounts “Afromemory” as Republican politicians across the country continue to introduce and pass legislation targeting classroom discussions about race.
But, as Burton explained, the playwright wrote the work years before some American conservatives began to protest anti-racism efforts and training in schools and workplaces, falsely claiming that they are part of an academic framework called critical race theory.
In 2016, the playwright followed the general election, taking note of the rhetoric of Donald Trump, who was then the GOP presidential candidate.
“And she saw some of the language that was being used, the negativity towards different racial and ethnic groups, towards immigrants and so on,” Burton said. “And I think for her, that sparked this thinking about what the future might look like.”
The future in “Afromemory” highlights, for Burton, the danger of ignoring people’s differences.
“When you eliminate or try not to see race, what you also don’t see is culture, history, family tradition and all of those things,” Burton said.
While scientific research has shown that race is a social construct, that differences aren’t based on biology, Burton said it’s always important to talk about the things that set people and populations apart. She said if the subject is ignored or erased, it can hinder progress and people’s understanding of who they are and each other.
“It’s almost like people think the notion of difference has to be negative, or that it’s only good to be different in certain ways,” Burton said. “And what the play does is it allows us to see the beauty of difference.”
“Afromemory” is at the Playhouse Theater February 17 to 20. One advance booking is necessary due to the limited number of places. Masks are also required, as is proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours of entry.