Acting Speaks Louder Than Words
By: Morgan Kirkland
“The Beloved Community” is a term first spoken by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Kr. He affirmed that ending segregation is not the only end goal, but also that “the end is reconciliation, the end is redemption, the end is the creation of the beloved community.”
Auburn University’s Mosaic Theatre Company is a campus- based theatre group that is dedicated to creating and performing original pieces based on prominent issues of social injustices in today’s society. The primary mission of the MTC is to generate conversation about diversity through their performances.
The MTC was founded in 2011 by Heather May, former faculty member of the Department of Theatre, and Anna Gramberg, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the time. They created the company with the intention to find a new way to spark a dialogue about diversity across Auburn’s campus and beyond.
May and Gramberg chose the theater because they thought it would be an idyllic place to explore diversity. Joan Lipkin, artistic director of That Uppity Theatre Company, was brought in as a guest artist to help guide the company in their first year.
Today, Dr. Tessa Carr is an assistant professor in the Auburn University theater department and the artistic director for the MTC since 2013. Since then the company has expanded. They collaborate with many groups such as the Women's Leadership Institute and the Human Touch Program.
During Carr’s time as artistic director, MTC has created and performed more than 50 scripts. They continue to spread their messages through partnerships on campus and beyond. The group also travels to numerous counties across Alabama for performances at events.
The MTC is unique from other social justice groups in a few ways. The first distinction is that they use applied theater as their chosen medium to open up discussion about social injustices. The second difference is that company itself is its own diverse, beloved community made up of a variety of students.
“I try to cast a company as widely diverse as possible,” said Carr. “I take into account everything: race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual identification, majors, age and abilities.”
Groups that stand up for diversity and inclusion are often comprised of people with comparable perspectives united by their cause. But the MTC is distinctive in that they use their differences to spark conversation amongst themselves first and take the conversation into public.
“Everyone in the MTC is so different, and we don’t always have the same opinions and perspectives,” said Tosha Turk, a junior environmental design major and member of the MTC. “There are a lot of things we agree on and a lot of things we disagree on, but we are all able to sit down and actually talk about our differences. It is all because we have our own experiences and things that affect us.”
The main goal of the company is to create a platform for discussion.
“There are a lot of people who feel like they don’t have a voice and can’t make a difference because they are just one person,” Turk said. “If there are a lot of us that can all come together, then we can have more of an impact.”
Victoria Lewis, a senior at Auburn majoring in technical theater and design, is Carr’s assistant director in the company. This year was Lewis’ third-consecutive year as a member of the company.
Lewis, a gay woman, faces adversity herself. She said that she believes it is crucial to stand up for equality in society and for everyone to come together to use the power of his or her voices.
“It is important for our voice to be strong and be heard,” Lewis said.
The group’s mission is not to just put on these performances. A lot of time and discussion goes into planning the performances. They have to choose topics and actually choreograph them. But the main goal is to get the performance to ignite a conversation.
“The goal is not just to perform,” Carr explained. “The goal is to have conversation after. A lot of times the pieces don’t have a clear ending, and the purpose of that is to raise questions.”
The performances differ. They range from a jovial “Family Fued”-inspired game where they talk about feminism and masculinity, to a more serious Langston Hughes poetry reading paired with thoughtfully planned choreography.
“We do a lot of sculpture work, we do a lot of work with our bodies because it’s often times too easy to get caught up in the language when you try to use words to talk about these things,” Lewis said. “Bodies are texts on stage. There is no such thing as a blank body. You can try not to, but everybody will see something.”
Not everyone who comes to watch the company perform necessarily agrees with the performance. Some people simply come to experience the performance and do not engage in discussion afterward. But the company focuses on simply getting the message heard.
“Students are being engaged whether they agree, disagree or whatever,” said Carr. “They are like ‘what a breath of fresh air’ being able to hear people talk about things that they can’t always feel like they are able to speak up about.”
Carr said that the company’s biggest progress comes from within the company itself. The members are a melting pot of individuals with many different stories, and the respect they learn to give one another is a small start to getting the entire community to love one another.
“We get a range of views within the company. One thing I think is most important is the work that group of people in the company make during that year together,” said Carr.
“They have to learn to respect differences among their fellow company members, and they have learn how to sit down and debate with each other in one room and not simply spout their views and walk away.”
Carr also thinks MTC performances help move toward building a united community on the campus by spreading the love and support from all of the students in the company to the rest of the students at Auburn.
“I think the most important reason this company matters is that is Auburn students speaking to other Auburn students,” Carr said. “It’s a platform for people who care about issues in a world where it is easy to be distracted from feeling your own personal responsibility in the democracy.”
For the students involved, they really want to share their stories and experiences with each other and the rest of the students at Auburn.
“We just want to get people talking. Not talking about things just exacerbates them more,” Lewis said. “There is such a culture today of not talking about things, and sometimes in order to bring about change you just have to break something completely open and that is what we are trying to do.”
The company is excited for their future. They hope to engage with more groups, and they hope to expand their company further by growing larger and creating more content.
Daphney Portis, an Auburn graduate and former member of the MTC, says that she hopes the company will continue to diversify itself in years to come.
“The company is already very diverse in terms of identities and opinions,” Portis said. “The 15 percent minority group at Auburn is not all black. Right now the company is made up of only black and white students, but I hope the company will grow to represent the other races on Auburn’s campus.”