Samantha Estrella

4th Year Undergraduate Student, BFA in Performance: Directing

School of Music, Theatre & Dance

Being your best DEI self: Think of a time when you were at your best at advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. What happened? Who was there? Why did you feel at your best?

What jumps immediately to mind is my senior directing thesis from this past fall, Leah Nanako Winkler’s Two Mile Hollow (TMH). TMH was an incredible and intersectional experience – a satire oriented on platforming not only a ‘BIPOC narrative’ but through this the creation of a space for BIPOC performers to simply be, was an absolute gift as well as genius, and I am beyond grateful to have experienced all that I did while sharing the piece with friends and peers across identities and majors.

Dependent on the BIPOC creators’ laughter, for many (if not all of us at least on the team, BIPOC or not) TMH was the first process to exhibit the crucial need for this sort of presence and personal experience for artists of color, without the usual forced revisitings of trauma, the act of teaching, a charge for direct protest, etc., in similar sounding projects. With TMH parodizing all identities, I felt so lucky to unpack and address how white supremacy appears in our daily lives in all aspects, outside of race, in an educational setting surrounded by textured artists of the fellow future.

Cultivating any sort of art and/or shared art throughout the pandemic has forced creators to reckon with the significance of community, foundations rooted in vulnerability, love, and newness. It allowed accessibility to be considered dimensionally, and promoted an inseparable gauging with rest and play to be habitualized as well as implemented outside of this particular project, and it was with this practice of sustainability when I felt my best.

Wishes for the future: How would you imagine your environment needing to be for you to feel that you don’t have to do DEI work anymore?

Behind “DEI” are pillars of humanity, revolving around necessary humility, kindness, and adaptation. As human beings, we are so dynamic, vibrating and constantly changing, and so I haven’t really envisioned a way for myself (or others) to truly disengage with this sort of work as there will always be the next thing to consider. This being said, I feel the most comfortable in spaces that are actively centering marginalized voices, that are tangibly warm and authentic – that comfort allows me to fully breathe, and I think that’s the goal, to be held by a collective’s embrace via their ideologies and actions: that’s an environment where I can just breathe, and be.

What does it mean to you to be a recipient of the MLK Spirit Awards?

It would be such a joy and honor to be a recipient of the MLK Spirit Awards, knowing that the intentionality and the love I have helped harvest in varying settings have been tangible despite institutional conditions. Receiving a MLK Spirit Award would be a celebration of my ancestry, ranging from historical figures, family and friends, to future BIPOC (Afro-Latina especially <3) theatre practitioners at the university, hopefully serving as a source of encouragement as well. To receive an award inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., is humbling, as it would mean to be recognized as a leader in relation with an ancestor for many, a brilliant Black ancestor. The nomination in itself resonates with such gratitude that I believe the award itself would simply expand.