Eugene's Minority Voices Theatre Continues Efforts To Increase Diversity On Stage

Feb 13, 2019

Carol Dennis and Stanley Colman watch a rehearsal performance of Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World.
Credit Melorie Begay

Minority Voices Theatre, in collaboration with the University of Oregon and the Very Little Theatre, will produce its first full production this month. The play is a part of an ongoing effort to increase theatre involvement among marginalized communities. 

After years of acting and directing, Carol Dennis says in 2016 she fulfilled her dream of creating a space for people who felt unrepresented onstage.

Stanley Coleman and Carol Dennis co-founded Minority Voices Theatre together. The theatre produces diverse plays allowing minority actors and writers the opportunity to gain experience.
Credit Melorie Begay

DENNIS: “Minority communities don’t necessarily feel invited to theatre and that’s not just in Eugene that’s pretty much across the country.”  

Dennis founded Minority Voices Theatre with her friend and fellow thespian Stanley Coleman. He says the local theatre community is incomplete.

COLEMAN: “We’re trying to get the entire community of Eugene represented, there aren’t just white male, or white females living in Eugene.”

Coleman and Dennis say the idea is to expose audiences to stories that wouldn’t normally get produced. In 2017, the duo staged a reading of “Now I Am Your Neighbor,” featuring immigrant experiences in Lane County.

HERNANDEZ: “They get to know us and the reason that we are here, we are humans, we are not criminals, we are not people that come and hurt. We come and try to survive, learn, and give back to the community.”

That’s Rosie Hernandez, she helped write a character she played that was based on her own life. Hernandez says the theatre shed a light on people who normally live in the shadows.

Now, the company is gearing up to premiere their first full production of "Pilgrims Musa and Sheri In The 

Michael Malek Najjar, a U of O theatre professor, is directing Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World. The play is about a Muslim immigrant falling in love with an American waitress.
Credit Melorie Begay

New World". A play by Arab-American playwright Yousef El Gundi.

Michael Malek Najjar is directing the Muslim-immigrant romantic comedy. The U of O theatre professor says he tried pitching the show to other producers around Eugene with no luck.

NAJJAR: “I think that speaks to the bravery of a theatre company like this one, where they literally put their money where their mouth is. In the sense of saying look,  we don’t have tremendous finances, but the finances we have we're willing to put into the stories that need to be told .”

Najjar says Pilgrims Musa is an opportunity for audiences to empathize with Muslim Americans. Empathy, he says, is the greatest gift theatre can give.