Co-president of Colors of Theatre talks creating visibility, community for actors of color

Illustration of Anna Sharpe
Olivia Staser/Staff

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Anna Sharpe didn’t come to UC Berkeley to fade into the background. She’s here to be seen, and now she’s helping others find their way into the spotlight. 

A senior majoring in theater and dance, Sharpe has been making her impact on the Berkeley arts community as the co-president of Colors of Theatre. The student-run organization, founded in spring 2019 by a group of student actors, including Sharpe’s co-president, Gabriela Pool, aims to provide resources and a community for actors and playwrights of color while welcoming anyone interested in theater into the space. 

Although Colors of Theatre may be new, it already has several exciting opportunities lined up throughout the school year. “We’re doing acting workshops,” Sharpe explained in an interview with The Daily Californian. “And I know we actually plan on having an acting workshop next semester for auditions with the artistic director from Cal Shakes.” 

As for playwrights, Colors of Theatre is working to get student-written works on their feet through staged readings and full productions; in fact, a staged reading of a play by UC Berkeley senior Drew Woodson will take place in November. “We want playwrights to reach out to us, anyone who has an idea that they kind of want to flesh out. We want it (Colors of Theatre) to be everything; we want it to be really inclusive in all aspects of theater,” Sharpe said.

In addition to simply providing a space for actors of color, one of the tenets of the organization is helping students realize that they can pursue a professional and purposeful career in the arts. For Sharpe, who entered UC Berkeley as a transfer student and an art history major, this message is particularly meaningful. She recalled one of her first experiences in an acting course through the UC Berkeley Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, or TDPS. Listening to other students share why they decided to take acting, she noticed a frustrating trend: Many people said they wished they could pursue theater, but had to major in something else instead. “It just really got me thinking, Why not? Why not pull the trigger? What’s stopping people from making that decision or that switch?” Sharpe said.

Now, several semesters later, Sharpe has performed in multiple mainstage shows and even serves as a peer advisor for TDPS. Her advice? “Go with your passion and everything will take off from there. If you want it this bad, you can make something of this,” she said. She particularly aims this message toward people of color, for whom the pressure to pursue something “practical” can sometimes be worse. “It makes me really sad to think that there’s plenty of people out here who did want to pursue this but figured, ‘Hey, let me go with something practical and just be OK with it,’ ” Sharpe said.

Sharpe also discussed how the pressure for practicality is partly due to what she describes as “the lack of knowledge surrounding what it looks like to be an artist or to pursue this field.” It’s also what makes visibility such an important issue. She cites her father as an example, as his attitude toward theater changed after seeing Sharpe perform in “The House of the Spirits.” In a text message, Sharpe said: “He turned into a believer and therefore a supporter. And I feel like that’s what it takes to change the way that theater going is perceived.” 

Sharpe recalled an experience that changed her own perception of theater. “I went to go see ‘White Noise’ at Berkeley Rep, and oh my gosh, the subject matter — I wasn’t ready,” Sharpe said. “I hadn’t read the play; I didn’t really go in with a general idea, so just feeling the heaviness and the weight of the subject matter in the audience, and me being one of the only Black women or Black people in general in that audience — it was very compelling. It’s plays like that (that) I wish (people of color) had more access to.”

“I think that any person of color who hits the stage,” she continued, “kind of becomes somewhat of a beacon.” And with three of its board members, including Sharpe, recently featured in TDPS’s “Who Shot la Miguelito?” and another in BareStage’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Colors of Theatre is practically showering the stage in light. As for Sharpe herself, she’s finally found her community here at UC Berkeley. “I feel like, ‘OK, I’m here and I’m seen,’ as opposed to just, ‘I’m here, and I’m just kind of in the background.’ ” 

It may seem frightening to step out of the background and into the light, but if Sharpe has proven anything, it’s that you shouldn’t have to settle when it comes to pursuing your passion. So for anyone else looking to make that leap, the members of Colors of Theatre are waiting with open arms. 

Lauren Sheehan-Clark covers theater and literature. Contact her at [email protected].