UPROOTED explores what it really means to be African American
UPROOTED Theatre is one of Milwaukee’s most intellectually-leaning and activist-minded theater companies. It is also quite successful, especially considering it is less than two years old.
The company, which seeks to explore and express African American voices and cultural experiences, was founded by four theater lovers interested in seeing actors — especially those of color — take on roles they wouldn’t typically play.
“[UPROOTED] started out of a desire to see people and theater companies create situations where people of color could play roles they wouldn’t traditionally be cast in,” explains Managing and Casting Director Marti Gobel.
It’s a fitting way to raise money for a theater company that continually seeks new and non-traditional ways to portray the African American experience on stage. In last year’s Beauty’s Daughter, Gobel played multiple roles, including a sociable Puerto Rican, an unloving Irishman, a married Italian and a blind junkie. Uprooted also staged A Streetcar Named Desire with an all-black cast.
Gobel describes Uprooted’s thinking.
“Many stories told with a Caucasian voice can be told just as effectively with black voice. It changes nothing.”
Gobel says that their performances are a deliberate attempt to shake up audience’s expectations, hopefully creating a dialogue by offering new and different depictions of African American culture.
“We are very interested in offering Milwaukee productions that expand on what it means to be African American,” Gobel says. “We have a very complex, multi-layered history – and we want to show people those roots and to let them understand that what they see now has been fed by a very rich, multifaceted culture. Not just a culture of overcoming oppression.”
Gobel believes that by employing this model of cultural representation, black patronage of the theater will increase. She believes that a very small number of African Americans come to the theater because they see little opportunity for themselves and their experiences to be represented on stage.
The triumphant opening of Beauty’s Daughter less than two years ago was lauded in every review and by every critic. Mind you, this stellar debut took place in a less-than-stellar financial climate: some (probably most) would have advised against the timing of launching a new arts organization.
Yet, UPROOTED has planted itself in Milwaukee and flourished. Referring to herself and her fellow founders, Gobel says that they have all lived and worked in Milwaukee, and they see their company as offering a very real opportunity for their city to come together through theater.
“[Theater] is sort of a social unifying tool. We’re interested in seeing our people in the audience.”
This is where UPROOTED becomes much more. By giving a voice to the typically voiceless, Gobel is certain that not only will a more broad and inclusive representation of African Americans be showcased, but that it will ultimately lead to a more broad and inclusive representation of Milwaukee in general. And I believe her.
UPROOTED Theatre’s annual Against Type! fundraiser will be held on Monday, October 25 at the Rep’s Stackner Cabaret, 7 p.m. For tickets and more information, call 414.378.8582.