Little time, big impact: Studio productions bring pressing issues to the stage

From left: Alexandra Rivers ‘21, Willie Naess ‘21, Zachary Lopez ‘21, and Daniel Bolriber ‘20 dance their way through 21 Chump Street. All photos courtesy of Mia Shmariahu.

Three days, four shows and countless emotions flooded the black box theatre for the studio productions this past weekend. Studios are student directed, managed and produced and are a great opportunity for underclassmen to get performance experience. I personally attended The Transition of Doodle Pequeno and 21 Chump Street. Both shows were wonderful selections and truly showcased a wide array of talent that Muhlenberg students have to offer. However, both shows have extremely compelling messages. The Transition of Doodle Pequeno focuses on identifying sexuality and 21 Chump Street focuses on racial profiling concerned with drugs.

Within the first few minutes of The Transition of Doodle Pequeno, I immediately started assuming that it would be just another silly children’s show. Fast forward a mere 15 minutes, and the inner-workings of my brain were beginning to get oiled up—I started thinking deeply about the characters. The protagonist, Doodle, just moved to California and is the new kid. It is Halloween and all he has to keep him busy is his imaginary pet goat, Valencia. Reno, Doodle’s neighbor, shows up on Halloween dressed as a “vaudeville vampire” and tries to befriend him and encourages Doodle to wear dresses. Despite their identity differences, they are able to see beyond their basic gender expressions and form a unique friendship.

“This show strengthened my opinions [about the importance of a diverse community], and how I have already felt about the subject,” said Zach Lopez ‘21. “I already felt as if people should be able to be who they truly are because there is no ‘normal.’ Normal is just this idea and concept that society came up with what they thought the ideal person should act like and be like. A definition some random person came up with. There is no such thing nowadays like ‘this is girly,’ and ‘only boys do that,’ because they’re all just labels that people put on an idea, but in reality, there is really no label. There is no rule that says you can’t do certain things and I hope the people that see the show can learn that and spread that message along to others.”

Lopez plays Doodle Pequeno, who is going through a difficult time during which he must not only identify himself in a time of change, but also a time where many people are also exploring their identities. Although Lopez is not currently the age of Doodle, he finds Doodle a relatable character overall.

(From left) Zachary Lopez ’21, Bennett Urian ’20, Karla Sagastizado ’21 in “The Transition of Doodle Pequeno.”

“I relate to [Doodle] in the racial aspect of life and at times feeling like an ‘alien.’ In theatre, it was a HUGE place where I felt this. As a minority, there aren’t really chances for me out there and I’m kind of profiled because of it. But, like Doodle, we are both finding our ways through things,” said Lopez. The Transition of Doodle Pequeno also focuses on other complex topics such as language and sexuality and loss and grief. By the end of the show, what started out as a typical children’s play turned into one of the most heartwarming plays I have ever witnessed.

Although 21 Chump Street is just under twenty minutes in production, its messages and subject title were so hard-hitting, it may as well have been a full-length musical. Written by the Hamilton legend himself, Lin Manuel-Miranda, 21 Chump Street is a musical that discusses racial profiling in association with drug deals. The main character, Justin Laboy, is caught in the middle of a drug deal when the girl who he has a crush on, Naomi, asks him if he smokes weed. Doing anything to impress her, he goes out to purchase some and then unintentionally sells it to Naomi. What Justin does not know is that Naomi is an undercover cop, sitting in on classes to try to get the inside scoop on what goes on in terms of drug deals. Justin eventually gets arrested as a result of the deal. Lior Algrably ’19, the director of 21 Chump Street, spoke about the impact of the show.

21 Chump Street does a good job in starting the conversation about racialized stereotypes associated with the ‘war on drugs’ initiative. During the rehearsal process, I believe that it is a result of stereotypes put on people of color. This musical is only the beginning of a longer conversation. Justin Laboy’s story is only one of many. These undercover operations that are supposedly keeping kids safe is still ruining the lives of so many, specifically children of color. It is our responsibility to keep researching and questioning/pushing back against these institutions,” said Algrably. To add to the discussion, Algrably also looked up the socioeconomic diversity of the high school that Justin Laboy went to, as this was a true story. I was personally touched, and in complete awe by the end of the show, as in such a short amount of time, an incredible message and compelling story was portrayed.

These shows packed such meaningful messages within their shortened time frames. Throughout my experience attending the Studio productions, the gears inside my brain were turned in a way that they usually are not. Because of performances like these, important conversations are beginning and spreading to something bigger than the just black box.

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