By Kristen Caven, Oakland Tech PTSA President

I dropped by the theater tonight to bring some food for the kids, and was happy to see a table already laden with a nutritious meal in the lobby. Inside the quiet auditorium, Techies were whispering to each other inside the sound cage at the back of the room, and Ms. J (Jessa Berkner), our Advanced Drama teacher, was giving notes to some students on the stage.

The girls, all in white, stood out crisp and clean against a dirty platform of bricks and old wood. My curiosity was piqued immediately by the unusual writing; the actors delivered stage direction along with their lines. Suddenly a blur of green light flooded the new cyclorama—the thin curtain at the back of the stage—and eerie silhouettes of a dozen more actors appeared behind it.

The cast and crew are in Tech rehearsals this week, running through the show minute by minute to work out the kinks before opening night on Thursday. While the lighting crew finessed an entrance, I was able to steal a quick interview with Ms. J.

What’s new in the theater with this show?

During our auditorium renovation, each time there is a new show we are able to bring more and more theatricality into play. This show debuts more new lighting which, as you can see, creates much more nuanced storytelling.

Anything special about this production?

Yes! This is the first time we’ve really been able to workshop the story with both the cast and crew. We’ve had deep and searching discussions about this amazing script, and all of the students have added something to the way the story unfolds. For the first time, the Techies have also been engaged in this conversation, and also for the first time, they are running the effects almost entirely by themselves. Casey, our Technical Director, is mostly supervising.

Why did you choose this particular play for Oakland Tech?

The writer is wonderful and just got a Genius Grant, but beyond that, this school has a special connection. A few years ago, McCraney had his West Coast Premiere of his trilogy, The Brother/Sister Plays at several local theaters, and our students all interned on the shows, so they have a connection. Beyond that, I thought it was a great contemporary African-American coming-of-age story that offers tremendous insight to this community. The high school age group is developmentally geared towards seeing things in black and white, but at the same time, this is a time of great choices. The play is all about choices. Oya, the main character, is torn between several different futures, and none of them are clear positives. Students who see and who participate in this story will have it to reflect on for years to come. It will make more and more sense to them as they grow older.

In the Red and Brown Water will perform November 14th through 16th in the Oakland Tech Auditorium, with 7pm performances on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, plus an additional afternoon performance on Saturday at 2pm. Tickets will be $8/10 at the door or $5/8 in advance, with the discount going to Oakland Unified students and staff.

Please contact if you have further questions.

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Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

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