“Under the Baobab Tree,” a play that ran on April 9 and 10 in Tomson 280, was by any metric a huge success. The play, written and directed by Mary Maker ’23 and put on by POC Ole Theater, filled its audience sign-up sheet within just a few hours of its announcement on St. Olaf Extra. The short play centers on a pair of young women in love in present-day South Sudan and deals with many traumatizing themes, including ethnic conflict, rape, homophobia and misogyny.
“It has really been hard for me as a director because I am bringing out thoughts that are very traumatic to an already traumatized BIPOC community,” Maker said.
In fact, Maker connected with other BIPOC artists in the Twin Cities area to speak with the all-BIPOC cast about how to act in roles that may be triggering or retraumatizing. This dedication came through in the show; the performances were deeply impactful and emotionally resonant.
The play was excellent, but for Maker, the end result was not the priority.
“I don’t mind the output — I am really blessed by the process that they have taken from the very beginning,” Maker said.
But Maker’s real aim was the creation of a BIPOC performance community. Many of the actors in the show had never acted before, and Maker hand-picked them to play specific characters.
“POC Ole Theater is not just about putting works on stage which is, yes, a part of it, but it is a community for BIPOC students to feel represented, to find their identities and to know that they belong,” Maker said.
The second half of the show, in which there was a question and answer period with the cast and crew, really spoke to this principle. An audience member asked why the set was so minimalist, and a quick answer of “the budget” caused uproarious laughter.
As the Q&A went on, it was obvious that the cast members had come to know each other well. By the end the Q&A was longer than the play itself, but it never felt excessive. There was a deep thoughtfulness evident in the show and discussion.
“Under the Baobab Tree” is an excellent play which signals the return and growth of POC Ole Theater. It is the first show the student organization has put on since Michelle Gibbs, the original faculty advisor of the group and former assistant professor of theater at St. Olaf, left the College. Dr. María Pabón Gautier is the new faculty advisor of the group. POC Ole Theater’s “Under the Baobab Tree” is unquestionably a marked contribution to uplifting BIPOC art and voices on campus.