“Wedding Band” Confronts Race, Privilege, and Forbidden Relationships

September 25, 2015
Amanda Nagy
people acting on a stage
Student actors rehearse a scene of Oberlin Theater’s production of Wedding Band, which opens October 1. Photo credit: Zach Christy

Oberlin Theater’s first main stage production for the 2015-16 year, Wedding Band, will challenge audiences to think about race, privilege, community, and feminism.

Directed by Assistant Professor of Theater and Africana studies Justin Emeka ’95, the play written by Alice Childress tells the story of a secret interracial relationship between an African American woman, Julia, and her German American suitor, Herman, set in South Carolina during the first world war and an influenza outbreak. The play runs October 1 through October 4 in Hall Auditorium.

'Wedding Band' Sneak Peek

Third-year Africana studies major Tiffany Ames plays Fanny Johnson, Julia’s landlady. Ames played the lead role in the spring 2015 Oberlin Theater production Dessa Rose as well as the Oberlin Summer Theater Festival (OSTF) production Crumbs from the Table of Joy. She has also played roles in the 2014 OSTF production As You Like It and a Little Theater presentation, What We Look Like.

Ames discusses her insights on her character and the current cultural relevance of Wedding Band, as well as her experience working with Emeka.

Wedding Band is a story about forbidden relationships and racial segregation. Describe your character and her attitude toward interracial unions.

Fanny, in her 50s, is the owner and landlady of the land in Charleston, South Carolina, in which the play takes place. Fanny sees herself as a “race woman,” someone whose sole job is to see to it that blacks live up to their full potential as American citizens. She cares a great deal, but she also sees many faults within her community—these faults being the ways in which being black in America is almost seen as unsuitable to whites. As far as interracial unions are concerned, Fanny says herself that she’s not against interracial relationships, but rather is weary of public spectacle concerning Julia and Herman’s union.

The original text of the play is set in 1918. How is the play relevant to today?

Despite the year of the play, I find that black narratives, written specifically by black people, are always relevant no matter the time period. Black history in America is a history many don’t like to talk about, but often times we forget that is what shapes us as black people. Any clues we have into our history—which is seldom taught to us—is helpful, especially through novels, plays, poems, dances, or any sort of expressive art. Wedding Band opens doors to us about the origins of interracial relationships between blacks and whites, and shows us quite unapologetically how they were not centered around love, happiness, and respect, but rather sexual assault and nonconsensual acts toward enslaved African women by white slave owners. The play also offers a plethora of themes revolving around race, privilege, community, and feminism that are very relevant to the present day.

Justin Emeka is known for creating new approaches to classic theater, particularly by infusing the African diaspora into plays such as Macbeth at Oberlin and Romeo N Juliet for the Classical Theater of Harlem. What is it like to work under his direction?

Working with Justin is always a blessing. No matter what the day has thrown my way or how I’m feeling, I know that when I walk into rehearsal, I’ve entered a sacred space, a place that Justin has deemed holy because of the beautiful and life-changing work that transpires there. Justin creates an atmosphere of trust for his actors and teaches us to stretch beyond our limits as performers to achieve greatness. It is truly an honor to know him, both as a professor and personal mentor, but also a very good friend.

What do you hope the audience takes away from Wedding Band?

I hope the audience sees this as more than just a play. Wedding Band is a story with themes that continue to plague our world. I want the audience to find these themes in their own lives, identify them, and find ways to talk about them. I want race to be on the forefront of their minds if it never was before. I want the audience to question whether their beliefs on feminism exclude women of color or what their levels of social and racial privilege really are. I want them to see that out of struggle and strife comes excellence, and I encourage them to witness the beauty of the black community on this campus. I hope they don’t leave the same way they came in.

How has Oberlin Theater shaped you personally and professionally?

To put it simply, Oberlin Theater has challenged me. I’ve found my voice as a black actor here with the help and guidance of some truly remarkable directors who endlessly inspire me, keep me humble, and push me forward. I’ve had to grow a pretty thick skin and have learned that pursuing what I know is right for me does not always appeal to others, but by no means should that undermine my goals. Theater is about making people uncomfortable, asking those hard questions, taking those risks, and finding those who truly support you and are willing to take the journey with you rather than hinder you. I’m very grateful for my experiences here doing theater, good and bad, and continue to push forward for the rest of my Oberlin College career and beyond.

Tickets are $8 and can be purchased through Central Ticket Service. Performances will be held in Hall Auditorium. For showtimes and more information, visit the Event Calendar.

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