Behind the Curtain
People love the theater because it affords us the ability to step outside our comfort zones, share our stories and those of our communities, and shift the emotions, minds, and attention of a roomful of people. The theater also gives a voice for people to share their stories and educate others.
My name is Isabel Zuckerberg, and I love the theater. I am a proud Guatemalan woman. I’ve been welcomed with open arms in previous theater programs, but I’ve always felt like the odd one out at UW-Madison.
Unfortunately, this feeling of exclusion is far too familiar for many students of color at our university due to the lack of diversity in theater programs. As of 2018, 67.2 percent of enrolled students at UW-Madison were white, while only 5.46 percent were Hispanic or Latino. While these statistics are similar in our university’s academic theater departments, we are lucky that the Wisconsin Union Theater is committed to providing financial support and opportunities to students of color to increase diversity and representation.
One of those leaders who has been instrumental in assisting students of color in the theater at UW-Madison is Elizabeth Snodgrass, the director of the Wisconsin Union Theater. She has made it her mission to raise awareness and address the lack of diversity in the Union Theater. Elizabeth shared that when she arrived on campus a few years ago, she noted that many people in leadership positions were white, and there wasn’t much focus on diversity training. In an effort to gain more students of color in the Theater, Elizabeth led many discussions and took action to create new programs and access to resources, including the André De Shields Fund.
Launched earlier this year, the Fund supports artistic projects and performances created, performed, designed, or produced by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and other communities who are historically underrepresented on our stages and in our audiences. With scholarships and opportunities like these, the Wisconsin Union Theater is creating an environment where BIPOC students can enjoy a safe and welcoming space to appreciate and show their love for the arts.
I love the theater. I hope to continue to watch performances with my family at the Wisconsin Union Theater and get to see my little sister’s face light up as she’s immersed into a new storyline or a new culture. I hope to continue to feel that excitement with the opening of the curtains and the roar of applause that drowns out any modern-day stresses and leaves your mind open and ready to be taken to someplace new. And I hope to see more faces that look like mine. I hope to hear more stories that I can relate to. And I hope to have people by my side who know the struggles of being a student of color in a predominantly white school who will work alongside me to educate others.
If the Union Theater is to fulfill its role on our campus and in our community, it must continue this project to increase representation on its stages and in its audiences. As it does that work to build opportunities and programs to increase diversity, I hope students leap at the chance to get involved. I hope students spend that extra hour to request support from the André De Shields Fund or apply for scholarships offered on campus like the Division of the Arts’s Artivism Student Action Program Fund (ASAP). Because, as Elizabeth said, student voices are the loudest, and if anyone is going to bring about change, it’s going to be us.
The Wisconsin Union Theater will announce more information about the André De Shields Fund and how to apply for funding in Spring 2022. To find out about opportunities for students to get involved at the Wisconsin Union Theater, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.