Life outside the Rarig Center

Toussaint Morrison and his hip-hop play venture into reality

Tatum Fjerstad

In February, Toussaint Morrison posted audition notices for his new play, “How it is,” on and off campus.

The poster asked viewers whether they’d ever dealt with bad boyfriends, white people, other people, sex, homosexuals and so on. If they had, he encouraged them to audition.

But did he post these posters in the Rarig Center, where potentially interested actors run wild and free?

“Hell no,” Morrison snapped.

More than half of his 20-person cast aren’t theater students. And he prefers it that way.

“I have never seen so many people of color come out to auditions,” Morrison said.

Morrison is a University theater student who spends as little time as possible in the theatre department. He has his reasons.

These reasons have been performed publicly in two productions he’s written, directed and produced. “How it is,” which ran for two weekends at the Varsity Theater, stems off last year’s “Embarrassed in Rarig,” an autobiographical account of his frustrations with the department.

Morrison isn’t a stranger to performing on the department’s Mainstage shows or working on its sets, but he refuses to see shows or do anything on stage in the future. He has other plans.

“I look forward with going toe-to-toe with the Mainstage season,” he said.

Although he’s a proud theater major, Morrison has beef with the theatre department, the productions it produces and the unaffiliated student-group Crisis Point Theatre. As a black man in the department, he struggles with the subject matter being taught and performed.

“There are violent underlying exclusions against people of color,” Morrison said. “We’re learning about plays written by dead white men.”

“How it is” is less aggressive and encompasses broader issues than “Embarrassed in Rarig.” The show compiles 50 interviews with college students from Minneapolis, Alabama, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Morrison asked students to tell him a story and from those stories came a 90-minute hip-hop theater script touching on issues such as rough parties, racist teachers, hangovers, race and sexuality. Oh, and it takes a few digs at the theatre department.

“It’s not hip-hop theater because there are rhyming words,” he said. “It’s voicing marginalized voiced from marginalized America.”

Morrison’s life experiences inside and outside the department speak through the production’s scenes.

The most unmistakable account is of a student of color who asks her adviser about getting credit for work she plans to do outside the University. The adviser refuses, but the student argues that she doesn’t fit in at the theatre department and would be better benefited elsewhere. She still is turned down.

The play opened at the

Varsity Theater in mid-March and ran for two weekends. By the first night, “How it is” attracted the Varsity’s biggest crowd for a theater performance since it reopened. More than 600 people came out to see the show, from as far as Rochester.

Shirani Jayasuriya, co-director for “Embarrassed in Rarig” and “How it is,” was shocked when she found out they had the largest audience.

“People came pouring out of the community to see it, to challenge it,” Jayasuriya said.

“I had people coming up to me saying, ‘I don’t even check out theater, man, but I really liked this,’ ” Morrison said.

He’s immensely proud of how far the show has come, and how far it’s going to go. On Wednesday they performed an encore performance.

“We wanted to do an encore so people could see it that didn’t get to,” Jayasuriya said.

Because of this performance – and the extra money it brought in – Morrison was able to pay his actors, something many established theater companies in the Twin Cities can’t offer – not even the University’s theatre department.