“Spinning into Butter”: CTC play explores themes of race and white guilt


Photos by Anna Delph

A small liberal arts school in predominantly white Vermont offers a window into institutional and internalized racism in the latest production by the Calvin Theatre Company (CTC), showing this weekend. “Spinning into Butter” is part of Calvin’s “Create, Unite, Renew” arts series, with this year’s theme being “exploring gender, race and reconciliation.”

In the play, a series of racially motivated attacks towards an African-American student sparks conversations and confrontations about attitudes towards race in a college community of administrators, faculty and students. The story also explores themes of white guilt and the minority identity: amid declarations of commitment to diversity from administrators and the desire among students to learn from those of different backgrounds, there is the tokenization that students of color feel as a result of biases held by the well-intentioned.

“[The playwright] Rebecca Gilman peels the mask off of our well-intentioned but flawed attempts to repent from and redeem our treatment of people of color,” writes director April Hubbard in the director’s note of the play’s pamphlet, going on to say, “Their failures mirror our failures.”

Photos by Anna Delph

“Spinning into Butter” is performed by students independent from any course, which means they aren’t earning credit for their performance but participate out of personal interest. The CTC show was put together during the January interim as well as during last week’s snow days, which were so severe that the cast held rehearsals by video chat, according to junior Kayla Cooper, who plays the lead, Dean Sarah Daniels.

Senior Nathan Meyer, who plays Ross Collins in the play, appreciates the story for “its contemporary setting and its thematic relevance to Calvin College,” since the fictional Belmont College of “Spinning into Butter” has parallels to Calvin.

“I’ve learned a lot from that and also from the unflinching nature with which the characters are explored. There have been times where revelations about my character have also been revelations about myself, and in a way, I’m grateful for that. Most of all, though, I’ve been so grateful to work with this director, crew, and cast,” said Meyer.

Gilman’s play offers no easy answers to the complexity of race relations and political correctness in our modern context.

Photos by Anna Delph

As the character of Dean Sarah Daniels shows us, you can’t solve racism with a bulleted list. Instead, the play offers its viewers the chance to examine their own internalized ideas about how they view “the other.” It asks the question, “What if this was us?” It challenges us to see each other not for the characteristics we have learned to associate with certain identities, but as people to be heard and known for who they are. As Daniels comes to realize, you can’t give help without knowing what needs helping.

Originally intended for last weekend but delayed due to the polar vortex that brought Calvin three snow days, “Spinning into Butter” is showing this Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the Spoelhof Center Lab Theater. Tickets are available at the box office.