Exploring race tensions through art

Alyssa Pressler
  • "A Soldier's Play" explores racial tensions in America during WWII through a murder among soldiers.
  • The play is being put on by Weary Arts Group, which partnered with the York Jewish Community Center.
  • The goal, according to the director and CEO of Weary Arts Group, is to start conversations.

Though "A Soldier's Play" takes place during World War II, it mirrors race issues of today, which is why Cal Weary, CEO of Weary Arts Group, decided to direct the play during Black History Month this year.

"A Soldier's Play" takes place in an Army camp in Louisiana in 1944 after a sergeant was murdered in a black company, according to a description on Eventbrite, where tickets can be purchased. A black captain investigates the murder, finding racism among black soldiers and white soldiers, all of whom have motive for killing the black sergeant.

A few of the actors in "A Soldier's Play," which will be performed by Weary Arts Group, pose in the uniforms they wear as soldiers fighting in World War II.

Weary saw the play and a movie based on it growing up, and it spoke to him as one of the first all-black ensembles he saw as a child. He always produces plays that mean something to him, but he felt the timing was particularly important for "A Soldier's Play."

"I think it's good for us to remember the arts can help facilitate how we feel as a society," he said.

The goal of showing "A Soldier's Play" during this time is to start conversations that might be difficult to have otherwise, Weary said. He thinks it will be easier to tackle such sensitive topics by looking at a story that takes place in a different era and drawing parallels to today's world.

Specifically, he pointed to the most recent presidential election and the charged political atmosphere that has followed. He said people were surprised, after living under a black president for eight years, to find there are groups of people who are not welcoming of people with different skin colors or from different areas.

"The real reason for doing something like this is to get people talking," Weary said.

Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign was another reason Weary felt it important to present this play to the community. As a Republican who did not vote for Trump, he said he's all for making America greater, because he believes the country is already great. The "again" part of Trump's campaign bothered him because he wondered what time period his supporters would want to turn to.

During World War II, he pointed out, America was surging as a world superpower and prospering economically, but white men typically reaped those benefits. The play, Weary hopes, will show that moving backward will only make America great again for some groups of people.

"A show like this allows us from an artistic standpoint to look back at a time that may have been that great time, but not for everyone," he said.

Weary said he would rate the show PG-13, perfect for families with older children who want to explore these types of issues. He's hoping community members on both sides of the political spectrum will attend the show, which will have a talk-back event in the next few weeks as well.

During a talk back, audience members can have discussions with the actors on what it was like to play their roles and about the play in general. Anyone who has a ticket for the regular shows will be invited back for the talk back and will receive information on the event at the shows.

"A Soldier's Play" will open at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2. Additional performances will be at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 5. All shows will take place at the York Jewish Community Center, which partnered with Weary Arts Group for the play, located at 2000 Hollywood Drive.

Tickets are $15 for students and members of the Jewish Community Center and $20 for adults and nonmembers. They are available online at Eventbrite or at the community center.

Black History Month events: 

Feb. 2:

Make your own African maxi skirt with Gusa by Victoria: $110, which includes 6 yards of fabric, food and drink and white T-shirt to wear with your finished skirt. This event takes place at 6 p.m. on Feb. 2, 9, 16 and 23. Located at 252 W. Philadelphia St.

Feb. 3:

Paint and Sip hosted by Gusa by Victoria: $47, from 7 to 9 p.m.. Located at 252 W. Philadelphia St.

First Friday at Pennsylvania Arts Experience: Twelve black female artists will have their art on display during First Friday, located at 37 W. Philadelphia St.

Hank Willis Thomas reception at Marketview Arts: A reception will take place at Marketview Arts at 6:30 p.m., where this photo conceptual artist's work will be displayed from Feb. 3 through March 11.

Feb. 9:

Hank Willis Thomas lecture: In a presentation at York College's DeMeester Recital Hall, you can hear this photo conceptual artist speak about his work at 5:30 p.m.

Honoring Obama: At Penn State York's campus from 4 to 6 p.m., the Black Student Union will host this event with refreshments. Videos of Obama will be shown, and a speaker will talk about the former president's legacy.

Feb. 20:

'90s Night: To celebrate the 1990s, sometimes referred to as the golden era for African-American culture, Penn State York's Black Student Union will host this event at which people can dress like they are from the 1990s and participate in dance contests in the York Ruhl building on campus. The event will begin at 6 p.m.

Feb. 25:

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis: For between $55 and $225, you can enjoy a show of 15 jazz soloists and ensemble players at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center. The show starts at 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 27:

Open Mic Night: To honor the role poetry has played in African-American culture, Penn State York's Black Student Union will host this event with a special appearance from Carla Christopher, a local poet and activist. The event will begin at 7 p.m. in the Community Room on campus.

Feb. 28:

YWCA York Film Series presents "13th": The documentary "13th," which looks at the nation's prison system, will be shown at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center at 5:30 p.m. for free. After the movie, a discussion will be facilitated by York NAACP President Sandra Thompson.

This is not a complete list of the events taking place in York County during Black History Month. If you would like your event featured on this list, please email