Fine Arts Set to Bring ‘Venus’ to Stage
Published: Thursday, November 1, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 1, 2012 09:11
Set in the early 1800s, Venus Hottentot was glorified for her extraordinary posterior. Throughout her short-lived life, she was objectified and exploited.
Written by Suzan-Lori Parks , the play is based on a true interpretation of the life and times of Sarah “Saartjie” Baartman, a woman who was scrutinized, exploited and experimented on because she was beyond all European’s notion of beauty.
“Venus” spills out Sara’s life from the time she is working menial jobs in South Africa, her being sold to be an act in a freak show, up until the time she is bought by a Parisian doctor. The doctor is fascinated with her, but he, as everyone else, sees her as a sexual object worth exploring. However, he also happens to love her, whether or not he really does can be left for the audience to ponder.
“It is a story of exploitation and she has been treated the same in every town she was in with the exception of her homeland,” said senior, musical theatre major and cast member Galen Williams. “[In her homeland], having the body that she had is a body of respect and it is expected of women to have large behinds and full breasts.”
In the play, Venus is played by junior, musical theatre major, Nedra Snipes. This is Snipe’s first leading role.
“I’m excited about it [the role]. But it’s also an honor for this to be my first leading role at Howard. I don’t feel like a lot of people understand what her true story was as a woman,” said Snipes.
Snipes said that she could connect with Venus, as she too have been objectified because of her “womanly shape”.
“It’s our job to make sure that people get the story. I want people to really get and understand the story,” said Snipes.
Though the play is based on a true story, many of the cast members said it did take them out of their comfort zone.
Lauren E. Banks, senior, theatre arts major plays three roles in the play—The Brother, The Mother Showman and The Grade School Chum. Banks said that her characters are symbolic of the different ways the Europeans manipulated Sarah throughout the phases of her life.
“In order for me to play this part, I could not judge my characters. I couldn’t just say this is terrible. Instead, I had to go and validate why. I had to give my characters reasons for why they were doing this to her and find the humanity within the evil,” said Banks.
“The audience should really come with a mind for critical thinking and a very opened mind because what is going to be on the stage, they’re going to need to pay attention for them to get it,” said Williams.
Williams said it is easy to walk away from the show asking “what just happened,” but the audience could also easily walk away and say, “Wow, the people Sarah Baartman was surrounded by really screwed her over.” All the cast members agree that it is the audience members who are the final characters of the play.
“I don’t want people to think that Venus played the victim all the time,” said Snipes. “She’s very smart about what she’s going through. She was in her early 20s and, us, as Howard women in our college age are experiencing the same things when we walk down Georgia [Avenue]. We can learn a lot from her, but we don’t need to let the result be the same.”
Following a strict six-week rehearsal schedule to bring the play to life, the cast is excited about the show and hopes that the audience will be also.
The play “Venus” is the second installment of this season’s theme “Women in incarceration and reclaiming our history”. Recognizing that male dominated shows have been hosted in the Fine Arts department for quite some time, the department wanted to highlight female roles this season.
“We had been doing a lot of male heavy shows. This year they really wanted it to be the year of the woman. In an essence to give the female actors more to work,” said senior acting major, Edwin Brown III.
“Venus” will be performed in Ira Aldridge Theatre beginning Wednesday, Nov. 7 and will run until the Sunday, Nov. 11. Student Admission is $7 (with valid ID), faculty and staff is $10 and general admission is $17. Show time is at 7:30 p.m. duwwring the week, 2:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.