Play revisits October 2016 Casa incidents, in which two students drew a Swastika in blood and wrote anti-LBGTQ slurs in the residence hall
The Santa Clara
March 11, 2017
Campus play “Welcome to Claradise” is a must-see. The play unpacks the campus response towards the controversial Swastika incident in Casa Residence Hall and explores the history of discrimination of marginalized populations at Santa Clara.
The 85-minute play debuted on Friday, March 10 in the Louis B. Mayer Theatre and was written by poet and playwright Brian Thorstenson, an adjunct lecturer in the Theatre and Dance Department, as well as several Santa Clara students. The play was also directed by Theatre and Dance Department Professor Aldo Billingslea and choreographed by David Popalisky, department chair.
Last October, an unknown individual identifying themselves as “SCUWatch” emailed CCTV footage to The Santa Clara showing two students drawing a swastika in blood in a Casa Italiana Residence Hall elevator and showing the defacement of a memorial honoring 43 student teachers who went missing in Mexico. The footage went viral online and made national news headlines—play touches upon the events that unfolded after the footage was released.
The high-energy cast of 10 students and one musician—senior Riley McShane—beautifully transitions between bellowing, high-intensity moments and more solemn, reflective scenes. Serious scenes tackling incredibly difficult topics are punctuated by moments of intensely relatable tongue-in-cheek humor.
The music, coordinated by McShane, pairs stunningly with the acting and images projected on the screen above the stage.
The play reflects the debate surrounding whether or not the Casa incidents should have been deemed hate crimes, and the reaction from members of historically marginalized groups. It also asked whether or not the administration would have responded to the incident in the same way had SCUWatch not leaked the video footage.
Although the play deeply explored the campus reaction to the swastika incident, by no means was it the focal point of the play.
It framed the CASA incidents around a troubling pattern of discriminatory acts that are frighteningly commonplace on our campus—discussing racially and sexually charged harassment towards students, campus rape culture and the use of demeaning language towards members of the LGBTQ population.
The play also painted the Casa incident in the context of decades of racist and sexist incidents on campus, many of which have long been forgotten. These incidents were explored in a timeline of events projected on a screen behind the actors.
The timeline highlighted the male student protests that occurred when Santa Clara became co-ed, and how the male peers of Santa Clara’s first female graduate offered her money to not walk in graduation. It also explored the long-drawn out fight for Ethnic Studies to gain departmental status, and how members of the LGBTQ community have largely been ignored in the discussion to increase campus inclusivity until more recently.
In an interview with The Santa Clara, Thorstenson said that the play poses a series of questions on how to live up to the university’s mission—questions that he does not have an answer for.
“Everybody carries the mission of this university with them,” Thorstenson said. “People are really aware of when we live up to it and when we don’t.”
He said he hopes that the play will give the campus an opportunity to listen to one another and continue the conversation prompted by the play.
“The play needs to be a conversation, one that is ongoing and continuing,” Thorstenson said.
Developing the Play
The play, written and developed with the help of Santa Clara students, is the first of its kind put on by the theatre department, according to Thorstenson.
Thorstenson first began developing the play with students in a fall class. However, when the Swastika incident came to light in October, Thorstenson and his students completely switched gears and began developing the play about the incident. He re-wrote the play over Christmas break, and the students began rehearsing in winter quarter.
Students working on the play interviewed dozens of campus community members to gauge the campus response following the Swastika incident, as well as hear other stories of campus discrimination. Actors acted out these responses to the audience, creating a snapshot of different opinions and perspectives on the incident. They also conducted extensive research on the history of oppression at Santa Clara.
“Welcome to Claradise” was also developed with the help of actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, best known for playing Nancy McNally in the critically acclaimed T.V. series “The West Wing”. Smith is one of this year’s Frank Sinatra Artists-in-Residence at Santa Clara.
The play’s title is an offshoot of Green Day’s song title “Welcome to Paradise.” Business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi popularized the term “Welcome to Claradise” when a pledge class sold iconic white tanks displaying the slogan several years ago.
Thorstenson picked the title last spring, when he stumbled upon signs posted to a gate that said “Welcome to Claradise” and pointed the way to campus. It made him wonder, “Is it really Claradise?” and the title ended up sticking.
Students Nina Feliciano, William Gunn, Lee Harrold, Kylie Joerger, Juliette Levy, Alexa Rojek, Marie Sadd, Tara Tedjarati, Maddie Tuck and Christian Wilburn all performed in the play.
The play ran on Saturday, March 11 at 8 p.m. It will also run on Sunday, March 12 at 2 p.m. and from Wednesday, March 15 to Saturday, March 18 at 8 p.m. You can purchase tickets for upcoming showings here—the performance on March 15 is a free arts appreciation event, so use the code ARTSAPPRECIATION to obtain free tickets for the March 15 show.
Contact Sophie Mattson at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4849.