Marta Wesenberg ‘12, a double major in English and drama, spent her summer using cutting edge video technology to tell the story of racial discrimination in the past.
Thanks to a Comegys Bight Fellowship, which provides funding for independent summer research based on experiential learning, Marta spent her summer working with one of her professors, renowned poet and playwright Robert Earl Price, on films that will be incorporated into his newest play.
“I was taking Professor Price’s screenplay class and struggling to find a summer job when he approached me about making films to go with the play he was writing,” she said.
The play, All Blues, is based on the true story of a white, male journalist, Ray Sprigle, who, in 1948, tanned his skin and went to Atlanta, posing as a black man for 30 days for a story for the Pittsburgh Gazette. The title comes from a Miles Davis song, and the play focuses on racism in the 1930s and ’40s.
Marta filmed and directed three five-minute films that will be projected onto screens set up on stage to accompany the actors.
“I didn’t really know much about filmmaking or racial discrimination,” Marta admitted.
“The technical side was pretty frustrating before I figured out how to get it all to work, but what was really interesting was the research on racial discrimination, because it’s something that my generation doesn’t see as much as previous generations,” she said.
She was especially touched by a story Sprigle wrote about a black doctor whose wife died from complications during pregnancy, because the only medical treatment available to her was at the segregated hospital 80 miles away.
“In the play, we focus more on the small, everyday things like not being able to get medical care, not being allowed to go to public beaches or to use certain water fountains,” Marta said.
She acknowledges that the project opened her eyes to struggles she’s never had.
“I thought I understood, but I didn’t,” she said. “It was hard to look at some of the photos and images I found without feeling guilty and hurt, but now I understand that hurt.”
The play is set to premiere on the Washington College campus in Chestertown, as well as in Atlanta, Ga., in October 2011.
“When I first got the play, it was still in its infant stages. I got to sit in on the very first reading, and it’s been very cool to be behind the scenes and in the middle of it all,” Marta said.
As production continues, Marta expects to create additional footage, as well as to help put everything together when the play finally goes live.
“I’m still collaborating with Professor Price as well as (drama department chair) Dale Daigle to get it all working. Everyone has been so helpful and supportive. I’ve been given lots of freedom and creative license,” she said.
Marta’s role in the project has opened some doors for her to work with different theaters in the future.
“It’s funny how things have taken their own path and happened differently from what I expected,” she said.
“I came to Washington College because I loved writing in high school. Then I was cast in Troy Women and I loved it, and I knew I wanted to pursue drama without giving up English. Now, I’m just seeing how it unfolds.”