Q&A with Shuyao Kong ’13, producer, and Manqing Cang ’13, playwright

Butterfly puppets await their cues for the student play Black Dot.

Butterfly puppets await their cues for the student play Black Dot.

When seniors Manqing Cang and Shuyao Kong had some questions around diversity and student culture at Smith based on their observations here, they decided to illustrate their thoughts by writing and producing a play. The resultant theater work, Black Dot, raises questions on what diversity is, and why and how we value diversity, they explain, while not focusing on any cultural group in particular.

Black Dot has been selected for performance as part of the WORD! Festival, an annual theatre event featuring student plays from the Five College campuses, on Thursday, April 11, at 8 p.m. in Hallie Flanagan Theatre, Mendenhall Center. Black Dot will also be performed in its fully produced form, complete with lighting, costumes and puppets, on Saturday, April 13, at 8 p.m. in Hallie Flanagan Theatre.

Kong and Cang recently responded to questions about Black Dot for the Gate.

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Gate: What prompted you and Manqing to write and produce Black Dot?

Shuyao Kong: I have been involved in numerous campus events about spreading Chinese culture. However, our so-called cultural events seemed to serve primarily Chinese students, rather than educating the campus about Chinese culture. Therefore, Manqing and I think that by having an event that is not distinguishably Chinese, we are able to deliver the true message to the Smith community.

Manquing Cang: The play Black Dot is mainly about diversity, though not intended to build awareness of a particular culture. I have noticed, too, that though every minority student group holds some kind of diversity event every semester, attendees of these events are usually students within that specific group. It’s time to get down to the basics and bring everybody together. While there are many diversity events happening on campus, seldom do we question if diversity is really a good thing.

Gate: Why is a play a good way to address these issues?

Manqing: Theater is a great way to stimulate thinking, especially when there’s no single answer to the question. And the dramatic form can serve as an open-ended question. It’s an indirect route to reach a place and to have fun during the journey.

Shuyao: I often find that the best way to raise a question is by putting yourself aside. With many campus events, people stereotype themselves into a certain culture. For example, during Chinese New Year, everybody wears Qi-Pao, the traditional Chinese costume for women, without knowing why they should wear it. Art can serve as a form that drives people away from the tradition, the custom, the routine, to a new realm of creativity and imagination. It is a better way to question an issue, which will lead the audience to reflect upon it once they step out of the theatre.

Gate: How is the nature of diversity illustrated in Black Dot? Explain the play’s approach to and treatment of the diversity theme.

Manqing: Diversity is one of the big topics at Smith. We promote diversity and have many events related to it every semester. However, attendees of these events are really limited to people who belong to those specific diversity groups already. Rather than mixing things together, we’ve created small groups inside a large one. This might not be a bad thing, if you think of it as a fusion restaurant compared to a restaurant with food from different places–each will have its own customer base. But I do think we should be aware of this phenomenon. I don’t think a particular culture interests the majority, so I deliberately avoided it in writing Black Dot. To do that, I chose to write a story about a group of butterflies and some flies, hoping to illustrate a single case of what would happen when two distinct groups come together.

Gate: What do you hope audience members will come away with?

Manqing: I hope my audience will come away with questions about what diversity really is, and about whether diversity is always a good thing, and whether it separates people more than bring them closer.

Shuyao: I hope the audience leaves with questions. They may arrive wondering how the play plays with a black dot on a butterfly. Then, after seeing the play, I hope they will come up with their own interpretation of black-dot. I want them to broaden the idea of black-dot beyond physical difference, racial difference, cultural difference, to individual difference—psychologically or personality-wise. Most importantly, I want the audience to reflect on how their daily actions embody their own approach to diversity. People usually talk about diversity as if it is a thing, but it is really embedded in our daily functioning.