K-State theatre looks to spark discussions about identity in ‘Straight White Men’

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Cast of "Straight White Men" rehearse in preparation for their opening this Thursday night. (photo courtesy of JD Warren)

A quick Google search into Kansas State’s demographics can tell you a lot about who is on campus: there is a slight majority who are men and a large majority who are white.

Despite the small percentage of minority students on campus, K-State has proven through numerous activities it is committed to fostering a culture that appreciates and respects diversity, regardless of how a person identifies.

K-State theatre is putting on a production that poses a lot of pressing questions regarding identity. “Straight White Men” will be presented Oct. 25 through Oct. 28. The play was written by an Asian-American woman named Young Jean Lee.

“It’s about three brothers and their father coming together at home at Christmas time and it’s one of their first Christmases since their mother passed away,” Sterling Oliver, director and senior in theatre, said. “Their mother was really instrumental in helping them form their identity and learn about their privilege and how they can assist with issues of marginalization and stuff like that.”

Oliver said he chose the show around a year ago, hoping he would get the opportunity to tell a story and use his platform.

“At first, I didn’t want to choose “Straight White Men” because I identify as the subject matter and I felt like it wasn’t really my story to tell,” Oliver said. “But, as I began to read it and think about it more, I kind of realized that if I want to be a successful ally, I should use my privilege and my position of power to further stories like this and to start these conversations.

While Oliver said he is nervous about the reaction to the show, he is also nervous people will forget about it. The play is not about delivering a message to people, but rather he wants to pose questions and start a discussion, he said.

“One of the biggest things that I want people to know going into it —and something that I really like about it — is that it’s not a play that champions straight white men or puts them back up on a pedestal or something,” Oliver said. “Instead, the playwright takes a more sympathetic look at the identity in a way that all people from all walks of life can learn and examine and learn about what identity means today. It’s not championing straight white men, it’s examining.”

Oliver said an important part of creating a good production is about teamwork and having a cast and crew that labors well together.

“In theater, normally — especially American Theater — collaboration is key to a successful production and that’s something that I really like to put my focus on,” Oliver said. “I have a rockstar production team including an amazing stage management team and a really skilled set designer and one of K-State’s finest student lighting designers. My cast is absolutely phenomenal, so we’ve been able to work together from the beginning of this process to explore their roles in the world that we are trying to create and I’m really proud of the work that everybody had put into it.”

Trace Campbell, junior in theatre, is one of those cast members working to make the show a success. He is playing Drew Norton, the youngest of three brothers. Campbell said he thinks it’s interesting because of the way the play approaches the topic of straight, white men.

“Given the political climate we’re in — we’re like one year past the #MeToo movement — it, in an odd way, stands up for straight white men,” Campbell said. “Not all straight, white men are bad obviously, there are good people out there but with our social norms and the discussions we’ve been having it’s been kind of set as a default that if you’re not this, if you’re not a person of color or if you identify as LGBT, you are a straight white man and that is usually seen as bad — like a label, but it has its own culture. You can’t say a person with color doesn’t have culture because that’s ridiculous, so saying that straight, white men don’t have their own culture — it just kind of brings that to light.”

Campbell said he is nervous to see the audience’s reaction, but said no matter where a person leans politically, there is something everyone who sees the show can walk away with.

“There’s definitely talks in the show about yes, there are bad straight, white men and — I think there are more CEOs named John than there are women CEOs, and that’s ridiculous,” Campbell said. “It brings to light that, yes, there are good-hearted straight white men who are trying to do good, but because of the stigmas and the pressures on straight white men, sometimes it collapses and that’s what we see in this story.”

Tickets are $5 for K-State students and the showings are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and a Sunday matinee at 2:30 p.m. at the Purple Masque Theatre.

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Hi there! I'm Julie Freijat. I'm the managing editor of the Collegian. In the past, I've served as an editor on the news and culture desks and worked closely with the multimedia staff. I love science and technology, hate poor movie dialogue and my favorite subreddit is r/truecrime.