When college friends Josh Webb and Andrew Kelly put on the play “White People” at Stagecoach Theatre in Ashburn last year, they hoped the Off-Broadway show would spark conversation in Loudoun.
It sparked even more than they hoped: Loudoun County’s Multicultural Advisory Committee (MAC) has partnered with them to provide two free performances, along with facilitated discussions about racial bias, on Feb. 1 and Feb. 2.
“Our original thought in this production was sometimes it takes a story to begin a conversation, and that is still where we are,” said Andrew Carleton, the show’s producer and president of Living Fiction, an organization founded to share the play with the county. “Neither I nor my fellow players in any way claim to have the answers, or even all the questions, but we want to begin a conversation with our community.”
“White People,” written by J.T. Rogers, premiered in New York in 2009. With minimal props and no real set, the show tells the story of three white Americans who grapple with subconscious racism—a professor who connects with an African-American student; a southern housewife who employs minority workers; and an attorney with minority clients.
Several members of the MAC saw the play during its original run in 2018 and approached Carleton about sharing it with the greater community. It took several months for everything to be finalized. Webb and Kelly will be reprising their roles, with the one female role taken by actress Tess Carr.
At both events, a question-and-answer panel with Carleton and members of the MAC will follow the play. Panelists and community members can discuss their experiences with racism and bias in Loudoun County. After that, a presentation about unconscious bias will provide tips for addressing this widespread issue.
“We hope these discussions will help improve cultural awareness and communication in Loudoun County. We invite you to have a frank discussion with your neighbors and explore action steps to challenge biases in our community,” Loudoun County Assistant Administrator Valmarie Turner said in a prepared statement.
“White People” will be showing at Claude Moore Recreation Center on Friday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., with the doors opening at 6:30 p.m. The show will repeat at the Carver Center on Saturday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., with the doors opening at 2:30 p.m. While the event is free, visitors will need to pre-register at Loudoun.gov/macevent. Due to the sensitive nature of the issues presented in the play, the show is only open to those 13 years of age and above.
“My goal is to continue the conversation that was started last year and learn more from others,” Carleton said. “With an outstanding story shared in a compelling way and an open conversation with our neighbors and community leaders, we hope to see you all there.”