‘UMW’ makes world premiere on Linfield stage

UMW world premiere at Linfield's Marshall TheatreLinfield College theatre students confront issues of race, bigotry and stereotyping in latest production, “UMW.”

The play, a world premiere by New York playwright Rob Urbinati, will be performed Tuesday through Friday, March 19-22, at 7:30 p.m. in the Marshall Theatre in Ford Hall at Linfield.

Linfield students talk about their upcoming play in a new VIDEO.

A reception to meet the playwright will be held Tuesday, March 19, at 6:30 p.m. in the Ford Hall lobby. Two post-show discussions will also be held following the performance in the Marshall Theatre – “Reactions to the Play: A Discussion with the Director, Playwright, Actors and Production Team” on Tuesday, March 19, and “Diversity, Social Media and Perception: Life on a Small College Campus” on Thursday, March 21.

“UMW” was written by Urbinati, a freelance director and playwright and Linfield artist-in-residence. The play is set at a small, mostly white university, far from the nearest city. When a racist video is posted by a student, hidden bigotry comes to the surface. In an effort to increase diversity, the school recruits minorities from across the globe. Despite the best intentions, the challenges of a forced melting pot come to a boil in this sharp, social satire about cultural tensions and college life.

According to Urbinati, the production was written to explore contemporary issues relevant to the growth of diversity on college campuses nationwide. During research for the play, he stumbled upon a YouTube video posted by a student as an anti-Asian rant.

“We wanted the play to address a multicultural theme,” said Urbinati, who also incorporated social media and other contemporary methods of communication. “The tone of the play started with this video and the reactions it stirred.”

His research progressed to include the experiences of Linfield students.

“I met with students so they could speak openly about their encounters with racism,” said Urbinati. “Gradually, step-by-step, the play became about the dynamics of a small school with mostly white students and the complications that creates for minority students.”

The play includes a cast of 12 characters, with more than half representing minority students.

“I wanted to write the play to include the experiences of the different minorities on campus,” said Urbinati. “I wanted the play to be funny and outrageous while still addressing the serious issues.”

The play is under the direction of Michelle Seaton, guest director and a 1994 Linfield graduate. She earned an MFA degree in directing from Rutgers University and has directed a number of world premieres in regional theatre and off-off-Broadway. “UMW” has been a collaborative effort between Seaton, Urbinati and cast members.

“The students have been able to give continuous feedback with questions of language and generation-specific culture,” said Urbinati. “It empowers them and it helps me. If the dialogue sounds authentic, it’s due almost entirely to their input.”

The design team includes Ty Marshall, scenic and lighting designer; Rebecca Meredith, costume designer; Rob Vaughn, sound designer; and freshman Jasmine Cobb, hair and makeup designer.

Urbinati’s residence was commissioned by the Lacroute Arts Series at Linfield College and the Linfield Theatre Program. Through public lectures, class visits and an in-process reading, he has shared insights with students, faculty and community members about the process of guiding “UMW” from idea to page to stage. Urbinati has directed more than 40 plays at theatres across the country. His play, “West Moon Street,” has been produced by theatres both in the U.S. and England and was performed at Linfield in 2011. Urbinati is currently the director of new play development at Queen’s Theatre in the Park in New York, where he curates the Immigrant’s Voices Project.

Tickets for “UMW” go on sale Tuesday, March 12. Tickets are $9 for full price; $7 for seniors (62+) and Linfield faculty and staff; and $5 for students, with a $2 discount on all tickets on opening night. Seating is reserved. Tickets are available at www.linfield.edu/culture, by phone or at the Marshall Theatre Box Office. Located in the lobby of Ford Hall, the box office is open Monday through Friday from 3 to 5 p.m., and until 7:30 p.m. on performance days. This play contains mature language and subject matter and may not be suitable for all audiences.

The Marshall Theatre is fully accessible. Assisted listening devices are available at each performance. For more information, call 503-883-2292.