Carole and Gordon Mallett Theatre at Purdue University Theatre
BY THE WAY, MEET VERA STARK
Written by Lynn Nottage
Directed by Ameenah Kaplan
Sound Design by Jeff Sherwood
Incidental Music by Jeff Sherwood
Vera Stark Aesthetic
Brad Donovan Show Intro Music and Stingers
In Collaboration with Assistant Chris Carignan
Radio Drama Sequence
Sound Design & Composition Concept
It is 1933 on the back-lots of Hollywood where young black actress, Vera Stark, fights to be on the screen with her white counterparts. Early jazz artists of color including Cab Calloway, Count Basie, and Bessie Smith inspire Vera’s world, where the all the action happens. In between auditions, she does what she can to make a living by working as a maid to white movie star, Gloria Mitchell (aka “America’s Little Sweetie Pie”).
The next big Hollywood blockbuster is set in 1855 New Orleans, and calls for black actors to play their “known” stereotype—slave roles. How messed up is that? Vera Stark is faced to question her identity. What is she willing to give up, to get on that movie screen? Sometimes we feel the mantle of an entire people’s reputation on our shoulders, and Vera certainly has some tough choices.
Even moving forward to the 1970’s, entertainment still encapsulates a predominately white sound. Vera Stark has become a Hollywood STAR and now gets interviewed on talk shows. Dozens of movies later, she is still asked about her pivotal role in the Belle of New Orleans. Her white-actress counterpart Gloria Mitchell makes a surprise visit on the talk show. Things blow up when Vera is relentless in shedding light on the racism of the 1930’s while Gloria tries to brush it all under the rug.
Vera’s Hollywood debut opened doors for future black female actors to emerge. But how far does her impact really reach? Racism is still very real today. We even see this as scholars try to pick apart Vera’s career and identity at a colloquium. Vera has now disappeared and we are left to ask—WHO REALLY IS VERA STARK?? WHO REALLY IS VERA STARK??
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