By Ashley Oliver
The crew of York College’s new production Intimate Apparel tackles the challenges of racism, sexism and class inequality both at the turn of the century and the and echos of the same issues today.
Set in New York City in 1905, Intimate Apparel follows a 35-year old African American seamstress who faces racial and gender inequality. The play features Danielle Taylor, Shakeerah Fredricks, Diana Collier, Alvaro Rivera, Guerschom Dieurine, and Ariel Pellman.
Although the play is set in the early 1900’s, some of the cast and audience said that the conflicts the characters face are present today.
“Prejudice and sexism still happen today,” said Guerschom Dieurine. “When I first read the script, I expected racist slurs but then I realized it still happens today. It made me feel happy to show the audience the similarity, but sad that this still happens.”
“As sad as it is, theater is just a representation of what goes on in real life,” said Anthony Castro, a junior Theater Arts major at York College. “The slang and slurs may not be the same, and the way we treat each other isn’t as bad because we know how to hide it now.”
The slangs Castro is referring to are Caribbean and Southern diction. The production’s stage manager Jessica Pecharsky said it was difficult for the actors to speak colloquially using ebonics.
“The most challenging part in theater is that the actors have to say the words exactly how they were written,” said Pecharsky. “The script is meant to be indicative of the social climates during that time. We spend so much time in college teaching students to speak proper English in a way that sounds educated and then the actors have to read broken English, which is everything they learned to not do, naturally.”
Even though Dieurine is of Caribbean descent, he said learning another accent was the most difficult part of the process. He said he emulated professional dialect coach Majah Hype every night.
“I attempted to do a Bajan accent and it made me appreciate every role I did that only required standard English,” he said. “I even watched a Bajan series on to get a feel for the accent.”
One of the actors, Alvaro Rivera, noted the importance of history lessons prior to venturing to an audition.
“A good actor should be aware of the social issues that happened around the time the play is set,” said Rivera. “You act the role better because you are more informed and you get into character easier. Before auditioning for the play, I watched Civil Rights documentaries.”
The creative process of the play, which included learning the lines, stage directions, and dress rehearsals, took three months. In stark contrast, the pre-production of the play took half a year.
“We started to plan the technical aspect way before there was an audition,” said Pecharsky. “People don’t realize how much work goes into a play that may seem relatively short on stage.”
The set designer, David Jones, said the most challenging part for him was integrating the creative element the director wants, while still portraying the original theme.
“I spent weeks trying to decide on which setting will represent the director’s vision most,” said Jones. “You have to think about the focal parts on stage and how it would look to an audience.”
Some audience members said the cast’s work was reflected in the performance.
“You can tell that the actors worked hard on this play,” said Rebecka Jusino, a freshman at York College. “I forgot I was watching a play, it really drew me in and I felt like I was in 1905.”
York College sophomore Javanie Rickards also attended the play. He said York’s production of Intimate Apparel was the best one he has ever seen.
“I used to go to a lot of plays when I was younger and I have seen this play two times,” said Rickards. “But I was blown away at how good they performed, they never broke character.”
Pecharsky said she hopes this production sets precedent for more historical productions at York. She believes students’ involvement in plays helps them develop as a person.
“The best part for me is to see it go from a vision to reality,” she said. “It’s just a dream and words, but when I see students actually play it out, the final production is great to see.”