Theater heroes return to campus

Before actor/alums RYAN MICHELLE BATHE and STERLING K. BROWN, both Class of ’98, took to the CEMEX Auditorium stage on Friday to perform scenes from August Wilson’s plays and converse with their former professor, HARRY J. ELAM JR., in front of a sold-out audience, the duo took to the more intimate Pigott stage to meet the Stanford BLACKstage cast of The Wiz.

Sterling K. Brown cast of The Wiz
Sterling K. Brown took to the stage at Pigott Theatre to demonstrate a concept for the Black Stage cast of “The Wiz” during rehearsal. (Photo: Linda A. Cicero)

A return to Pigott, one of Brown’s favorite places on campus, completes a circle for the pair. Elam, vice president for the arts, worked with Bathe and Brown at Stanford when he directed them in August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at Pigott Theater during the couple’s freshman year. The play was favorably reviewed on campus in the Stanford Daily. Heralding great performances to come, Stanford Daily reporter Sangeetha Ramanujam wrote that Brown was perfect for the part of Herald Loomis, and that he captured the essence of a haunted and enigmatic man.

JANEI MAYNARD, student program coordinator at the Institute for Diversity in the Arts and director of The Wiz, believes that having Bathe and Brown return to campus to talk to her cast is critical to the students’ undergraduate careers as student artists of color. “With the arts at Stanford growing, one of the best opportunities students can have is to see that thriving arts careers are attainable goals for themselves and their peers, not just dreams. To know that people before them have done it successfully, and to have those people offer them knowledge and wisdom toward their own career paths, that’s an invaluable experience to have when faced with so many obstacles as a student artist of color at Stanford.”

The special guests participated in a warm-up exercise on stage and then grabbed front-row seats to watch a few scenes from the musical. After heartily thanking the cast and crew for a job well done and expressing awe at the great number of black student performers, Bathe and Brown engaged in an extended conversation with the students that ranged from where to find inspiration to stage fright to the difference between acting on stage and in front of a camera.

Sterling K. Brown
Sterling K. Brown and Ryan Michelle Bathe engage in an extended conversation with the cast of The Wiz. (Photo: Linda A. Cicero)

One of the kernels of wisdom that Brown shared through a story was about being true to yourself and your dreams. He recalled his first theater job out of grad school in New York. The job paid $300 a week and he was paying $85 for a hot room on the top floor of an apartment building with a shared bathroom and poor water pressure. He rode the bus that summer because it was air-conditioned. But for Brown, even clearing $215 a week after rent was worth it. He said, “When I was acting, everything was right in the world. If I’m not loving what I do, what’s the point?”

Bathe acknowledge that an acting career for black performers is difficult and that many of the gatekeepers are still old white men. But in answer to the question, Is the industry changing? She responded, “Absolutely. You are living in the post-Hamilton world. It will never be the same.”

The acting couple returned to the Farm with collectively two Emmys, a Golden Globe, a Critics’ Choice Award and a resume that includes This is Us, Army Wives, Insecure, Black Panther, The People v. O.J. Simpson, Good Fences, Boston Legal, One for the Money, ER and more.