WATERLOO, Iowa --- The eight actors represented a range of racial and ethnic groups.
But during a 45-minute performance Tuesday at East High School, CLIMB Theatre members sought to help students see beyond skin color and ethnicity. The Minnesota-based group sang, recited monologues and acted out scenarios in "A Deeper Look" to tell personal stories and reveal prejudices.
The award-winning nonprofit theater company is making a number of stops in the Cedar Valley this week, sponsored by the University of Northern Iowa. It performed at George Washington Carver Academy on Monday and Cedar Falls High School on Tuesday. Today CLIMB is performing at West High School, Hoover Middle School and Malcolm Price Lab School.
J.R. Ritcherson, one of the actors, called the performance an "education show about stereotypes and diversity." In one scenario, Ritcherson --- a black man --- was criticized by family members for having a white friend. They called him "Oreo" and said he was "acting white."
The actors talked about the ways prejudice pops up because of skin color or religion. One monologue included a story about a black man being stopped by police for no other reason than his skin color. Another was about a Muslim woman's shame over her religion after falling in love with a Christian. A third detailed the taunts a Hispanic man endured about illegal immigrants because of his heritage --- even though his family has had American citizenship for generations.
"Stereotypes are like shortcuts for the our brain," actor Dana Thompson said during one of the monologues. There is some germ of truth in many of them, but they often don't hold up when applied to everyone in a group.
"Not all Asians are good at math, not all African-Americans play basketball, not all Russians play chess," said Thompson.
Some of the stories the actors tell are personal while others come from those who were involved with the theater troupe last year. Members of CLIMB --- which stands for Creative Learning Ideas for Mind and Body --- wrote "A Deeper Look" in late 2010 at the request of Owatonna, Minn. Public Schools, which was dealing with racism issues.
East's performance came in the midst of the annual Diversity Week. A number of events are being held throughout the week by the student organization Diversity. Typically, the week is held earlier in April.
"Once (CLIMB Theatre) decided to come, we moved the week back since it went hand-in-hand with our group," said Jacob Hewitt, an East junior and Diversity member. He and other students in the group gave high marks to the theater company.
"I felt like they explored stereotypes very well, in a way you could understand," said sophomore Aunteria Love. Others noted the performance was engaging and enjoyable.
"There was never a dull moment," said Hewitt. "They kept you occupied the whole time."