SUNY New Paltz’s Mainstage Productions presents “Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies,” written by Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm. The play will be directed by SUNY New Paltz alum, Lester Mayers ‘19 (Theatre Arts). Mayers is a MFA graduate of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. He is a director, performance artist, writer, dramaturg, professor and choreographer. Currently, Mayers is a professor at Ramapo College and at the Minneapolis College for Art and Design.
The play discusses heavy subjects related to race and racism and also contains graphic language and racial slurs. According to the SUNY New Paltz News Website, the dark comedy tells the story of “Marquis and Tru, 14-year-old Black boys from two totally different worlds: Marquis is a book smart prep-schooler living in the affluent suburb of Achievement Heights, while Tru is a street-savvy kid from deep within the inner city of Baltimore. Their stories intersect one day when they meet in a holding cell.”
Mayers said that the play was “materialized with the power of long-traditional effects of racism and the fears, pain, confusion and wasteful global loathing it leaves behind.”
Mayers told The Oracle that he is “trying to facilitate trauma workshops, so [he] comes to the work with those tools already put in place rather than it just being that simply precautionary thing.”
“Life is a story. The stories call us if we’re not calling to them. The reality is as well as that we don’t have a lot of students of color in the theater department. So, the pickings are very slim. But the slim pickings are magical,” Mayers said.
Mayers told The Oracle that “It’s an amazing story about us coming together to hold a mirror to how social media has desensitized us to the killing of Black people. We will be doing 100 days across campus which is an honor to Trayvon Martin the day of opening up the show, which will be Nov. 17.”
When asked about his time as a student here at SUNY New Paltz, Mayers said that “we had our own imagination and we made our way without money to make things happen.”
Christopher Etienne is a second-year theater arts major with a concentration in theater studies. Etienne is the production stage manager and the fight captain. Etienne told The Oracle that his job is to “make sure the cast is okay and that blocking is correct. I make sure that the director gets word from the creative team’s vision, so it can translate from script to stage. As a fight captain, there’s a few fights in the show, so I make sure the cast performs those fights safely.”
“As a production stage manager, I get to have my input and the creative aspect of some things I know. I got to basically restage with Lester, how the show should be, the story should be told and it’s really cool. This is my first time calling a show with all the amazing and chaotic cues within the show because it’s so high tech, because we have projections. I have control of the space and what’s safe for my actors. For Lester, it’s about what’s safe for the creative team,” said Etienne
Etienne also shared that “the first act is a bit crazy, because we have this laugh light which instructs the audience to laugh at the worst times. It’s a kind of, I wouldn’t say woke moment, but rather, ‘Oh, should I be laughing?’ or ‘Should I not be laughing?’ So I know the audience will take away a whole different perspective of how they act in the world.”
Additionally, Etienne said that since this play is a dark comedy, it “covers lots of real and touchy subjects, such as racism, suicide and identity crisis. So, I think the audience will take away the aspect of the truth from reality and what’s happening in the world and I hope they get a little laugh.”
The Oracle gained some insight into what “Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies” rehearsals are like. Etienne said that “each rehearsal was taken step by step. When we got to the dark moments, it’s very important that we gave the actors space. There’s moments where if we need to laugh, we just let it all out. We do lots of post-rehearsal talks to talk about with the cast and what it means for them.”
The efforts that each individual in the cast and crew put in “shows the importance of the show and it shows how much we care and how much we want to dedicate this to Trayvon Martin, because this play’s based on him,” Etienne said.
Opening night will be Friday Nov. 17 at 8 p.m. and continuing over the weekend with additional shows on Saturday Nov. 18 at 8 p.m. and another on Sunday Nov. 19 at 2 p.m.. The cast will take a break for the weekend of Nov. 25, but will pick up with more shows on Thursday Nov. 30 at 8 p.m., Friday Dec. 1 at 8 p.m., Saturday Dec. 2 at 8 p.m. and Sunday Dec. 3 at 2 p.m.