Theatre Department Takes on Gentrification in ‘Buzzer’

Theatre Department Takes on Gentrification in ‘Buzzer’

Out with the old and in with the new. Or so the saying goes. But starting a new life in an old place can be complicated. Add in issues of race, class and privilege, and you’re sure to have some drama.

The College of Charleston Department of Theatre and Dance is tackling these difficult topics in the play “Buzzer” by Tracey Scott Wilson beginning on Jan. 25. Turning the narrative of gentrification on its head, “Buzzer” follows the story of Jackson, a young African-American attorney who moves with his girlfriend, Suzy, and his childhood friend, Don — both of whom are white — into an up-and-coming section of Brooklyn that was once the predominantly working class African-American neighborhood of Jackson’s youth.

The uncomfortable truths that bubble up between the trio lays bare the complexities of race, culture and wealth. (Feature photo: students (from left) Jacob Milano, Gibson Carter and Dexter Mitchell in a rehearsal of Buzzer.)

Joy Vandervort-Cobb (Photo by David Mandel Photography)

Joy Vandervort-Cobb, an associate professor of African-American theatre and performance and the production’s director, says she was drawn to the unconventional story because of its unapologetic but honest take on life.

“It took my breath away when I read it,” she says.”I laughed, I gasped, I spoke out loud to the script.”

Challenging the stereotypical perceptions of gentrification, “Buzzer” leaves the audience to decide whether Jackson is friend or foe — or simply human.

“He’s back kind of reclaiming home, right? And proving something to himself, to the neighborhood, to his childhood friend and his girlfriend – and it’s a smart investment,” Vandervort-Cobb says. “So, in going home is he really gentrifying? Well, yeah. If you are displacing people, if you’re only back because the neighborhood is suddenly rife with gyms and Starbucks and other hipster establishments, you are a gentrifier. And we don’t ever think of African Americans as gentrifiers.”

The characters’ relationships are tested in Buzzer.

The experience of telling such a layered story hits close to home for student assistant director Clyde Moser, whose mother is white and father is African-American. Moser, a senior double majoring in theatre performance and middle grades education, says Jackson’s unique role as an African-American gentrifying his childhood neighborhood begins to weigh on him as he seeks to re-establish himself among his peers – something his white girlfriend Suzy struggles to understand.

“It helps that I come from an interracial family and there have been moments in my household where there are certain cultural competencies that you don’t understand if you were not born in that culture,” he says. “And that’s something that’s really fun to see the characters discover.”

Moser adds, “It’s like walking on a tight rope. You have to accept both the good and the bad that comes with your own social lens.”

“Buzzer” features student actors Gibson Carter as Suzy, Jacob Milano as Don and Dexter Mitchell as Jackson. Performances of the play will be staged at 7:30 pm. Jan. 25-29 and Feb. 1-4., with an additional 2 p.m. matinée on Jan. 29.

All performances will be held at the Chapel Theatre, 172 Calhoun St. Admission is $15 for the general public and $10 for CofC students, employees and senior citizens. Tickets can be purchased at theatre.cofc.edu or by calling 843-953-6306.

The entire 2016-2017 performance schedule for the Department of Theatre and Dance is available on its website.