EDITORIAL: Criticize entire “And Then There Were None” process
On Thursday, April 12, the Undergraduate Theatre Collective postponed its first performance of “And Then There Were None” only hours before it had been slated to open. The play is based on a 1939 Agatha Christie murder mystery novel adapted from a British nursery rhyme about murdering Africans, the title of which was “Ten Little N-----s.” This board is disappointed by the last-minute nature of the decision and urges faculty members to voice their concerns more proactively in the future.
The Justice conducted interviews with Prof. Carina Ray (AAAS), director Merrick Mendenhall ’20 and another individual with ties to the play who wished to remain anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the situation.
We object to the UTC Proposal Board’s original decision to stage the play as simple entertainment rather than engaging with the implications of the play from the beginning; UTC leadership had known about the show's history before approving it for their spring lineup. But at the vote itself, which the producer and director of the show had been unable to attend, the racist background of the play was relegated to a brief mention and an asterisk. While controversial art can be used to prompt dialogue or open campus conversations, in the future the UTC must consider whether their plays are meant to be provocative or simply entertaining, and guide their decisions accordingly. Instead, when the play’s leadership raised concerns about the play’s history, the UTC dismissed their concerns.
The play’s leadership asked 20 professors from a variety of departments to participate in a post-performance panel discussion. While the majority did not respond or claimed not to have time, Ray declined to participate because she believed that would legitimize the UTC's original mistake of choosing to produce the play, but she suggested the play’s leadership speak with Chief Diversity Officer Mark Brimhall-Vargas.
On the projected opening day, the African and Afro-American Studies Department reached out to the play’s leadership and two UTC members via email, questioning whether the show was being performed in a way that upheld the dignity of students marginalized by its racist history. We hold that not reaching out earlier was a critical error on the part of the faculty and that failing to advise students when they had requested help with a contentious issue was an oversight.
Following the email, the play’s leadership and the UTC decided to host an open forum in lieu of opening the play that evening, and later chose to cancel all but one performance. This noard objects to the last-minute nature of the decision, given the performers’ hard work and the months of deliberation that preceded the final decision. UTC representatives, the play’s cast and Brimhall-Vargas had met a few days before opening night to discuss the play’s history and reaffirm their confidence in the production. Deciding to cancel only four days after affirming the production was unfair to cast members, especially after students had put significant work and resources into the play. In the future, production decisions should be made earlier, with more transparency and with better communication between all concerned parties.