N*GGER W*TBACK CH*NK: Before you Judge it, Watch it

(Originally published in buzz magazine on 9/20/2007)

What sounds come to mind when you think of performances at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts? The woody bellowing of a bassoon? The cunning wordplay of Shakespeare? Maybe the ringing vibrato of an opera singer?

Well, you’re not exactly wrong. But after this week, you’ll also have to include the hip hop, slam poetry, and stand-up comedy from Speak Theater Arts’ traveling show, N*GGER W*TBACK CH*NK. Judging by the outrageous sample acts the troupe performed at the information session Sunday night at Allen hall, N*W*C will be a show to keep CU talking for weeks to come.

Attendees of Krannert at 7:30 p.m. this Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday night are in for a huge treat—and a thought-provoking wake-up call. Californian actor-writers Rafael Agustin, Allan Axibal, and Miles Gregley are taking multicultural awareness to a whole new level in a controversial play that does not shy away from the topic of racial slurs.

In fact, the play’s opening scene features the trio singing a bold little ditty that consists almost exclusively of the three charged words in the play’s name. Over and over again, for more than two minutes.

“If you’re feeling uncomfortable about the words,” producer and director Steve Seagle said, “buckle up, because we’ve got a short little ride for you in a very fast machine.”

As could be expected from the title, a great deal of controversy has surrounded the show.

“When we first did the play, there were protesters outside,” Miles said.

That was at UCLA, the group’s alma mater. Since the debut, however, they’ve been invited to return several times. And who says a little public uproar is a bad thing, anyway? In some ways, it means they’re doing their job well.

“Our greatest success story for sure, hands-down, was Olympia, Washington, where we managed to piss off Neo-Nazis,” Rafael said.

Just before their performance, the sheriff’s department informed them that Neo-Nazis would be protesting their show.

The guys’ response? “The show is called N*GGER WETB*ACK CH*NK. How the hell are they pissed?” Rafael said. “I don’t know what they thought, but we’ve pissed off the Neo-Nazis, so we’ve done our part.”

Despite the controversy, newspapers nationwide have touted the show’s hilarity. Critical consensus seems to be that the show is an absolute riot. But as Miles said, “Lord knows we’re not trying to be a minstrel show.” It’s comedy, sure, but it’s comedy with serious message about the bane to humanity that is bigotry. And to the actors of N*W*C, maintaining that balance between zany humor and meaningfulness is key.

That said, there are still some doubters—people who might question the ability of the show to address race in ways that don’t trivialize the issue. It’s a legitimate concern, but one Miles is used to addressing.

“I really hope people come to the show and get informed,” Miles said. “Come to the show, then form your opinion. The show in its entirety—not a clip off of Youtube.”
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