For the first time in recent memory, the Theatre Arts program at McDaniel College has co-produced a show with another college, Coppin State University in Baltimore. Together they aim to tell a story about the power of people to change in “Best of Enemies” by Mark St. Germain.
The play is based in true events and characters. It centers in 1971 during the desegregation of the Durham, North Carolina schools and on the relationship between C.P. Ellis, a Grand Cyclops of the KKK, and Ann Atwater, an African-American civil rights activist.
“'Best of Enemies’ exposes the poison of prejudice in the hearts of Atwater and Ellis who, by facing each other, are forced to face the worst, and best, in themselves,” according to a news release from the college.
Shows will run from Oct. 2 to Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the Alumni Hall Theater on the college’s Westminster campus. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for seniors, students, military, and the McDaniel College community. For more information, call the box office at 410-857-2448.
Each performance also includes a post-show discussion with McDaniel faculty and Westminster community members.
Audiences should note that the play contains strong language, including racist language, and mature themes.
The show premiered first at Coppin from Sept. 18-22, and the cast and crew have been working to bring it to the McDaniel stage. It’s directed by Willie O. Jordan, who serves as an assistant professor of theatre at Coppin.
He said that producers Elizabeth van den Berg from McDaniel and Garey A. Hyatt from Coppin chose the play because of its echoes in the modern day, where there are fissures and fractures between opposing sides in political dialogues.
“I think this play ... has two imperfect beings that pretty much want the same thing. And they’re very much alike. They’re more alike than they are different. And once they talk to each other, and begin to trust each other more, they realize they’re after the same thing," Jordan said. “We all want the best for our children. And I think that’s what the nation has to realize, is that we should all want the best for the nation. And so in that sense, this play sort of becomes a metaphor for what we should all want, which is change.”
At a dress rehearsal Monday, Sept . 30, the cast and crew were polishing the technical aspects of performing in a new space. Two different stage managers and stage crews learned the show, one for each college. The production was designed by a combination of McDaniel and Coppin talent.
Discussions about the combined production started last spring and casting was completed before the end of the semester. Putting it together has meant a lot of commuting between the two schools.
Jordan said combining the forces of the two departments was a decision that is good for saving costs as well as bringing together two different college communities.
“Coppin is in West Baltimore. McDaniel’s out here in Western Maryland. We are a historically black university. They are a traditionally white institution here. This is a private school, we are a public school. So we couldn’t be more different in some ways. And yet, the young people have really forged a wonderful friendship together coming from different worlds," he said.
McDaniel senior Anna Rozier said that collaborating with another college has been a good professional experience for the students involved. They have been exposed to new directors and actors and styles of working. Rozier plays the role of Mary Ellis, the wife of main character C.P. Ellis.
Spending weeks engrossed in the show has also affected her as a person.
"Me as human, I’ve grown a lot from the experience. And I’m hopeful that the audience will as well,” she said. "I do think that it has an emotional impact, and at the very least should be able to get people to leave the theater thinking about the state of things now and how to kind of develop change in such a short time frame like they were able to in the show.”
One of the surprising things about the script, Rozier said, is that the events take place in just 10 days.
Jordan said, “My prayer, and my hope is that it will impact people here. When we set out to do this show, we set out with the idea that we want people to feel something, to understand something, to think through all of this. And finally, to want to do something. To be the change you want to see in the world."