Vanessa Robert's debut performance was in a fifth grade production called "The Kingdom of Language," where she played the role of Figurative Language.
Roberts knew she was going to stay within the world of theatre at that moment, although the emphasis on social justice did not come until 2009.
"It was when I fell in love with the stage," Roberts said. "There's something special about performance - it offers an invitation to take risk."
Roberts will present her social justice-themed performance, "Identity Theatrics," at noon on Tuesday, April 28, in the Hamilton Room in the James R. Connor University Center at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. The event is free and open to the public.
The presentation is the final event in a series called "A Conversation on Race: A 50-Year Retrospective," which aims to foster a sustained campus-wide conversation that examines, educates and opens dialogue on race and race relations past and present.
The event was sponsored by departments across campus, including First Year Experience, which played a significant role in getting Roberts to speak at UW-Whitewater.
"The series has been successful because we have been able to use multiple forms of educational tactics," said Beth John, director of First Year Experience. "It is sometimes hard to have a racial dialogue because it's not always easy to talk about. That's why having people like Roberts who are dedicated to sharing their perspective is so important to this conversation."
"Identity Theatrics" is an exploration of identity using the idea of play and fun, showing that identity is constructed and fluid.
The presentation also encourages people to consider their own cultural makeup and to reflect on how it was constructed or if it is continuously being changed.
It's important to understand there is a power in recognizing our sense of selves and the multiplicity of our selves, Roberts notes.
"The process of recognizing how our sense of selves is constructed is ongoing," she said. "There is a social aspect of the presentation where I encourage the attendees to meet someone new and have a conversation about their own identity. For the viewer, theatrics is creating a space and letting down a guard."
Roberts received her Master of Arts from New York University and is currently teaching sociology and working toward a doctoral degree at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Roberts will continue to work in the area of social justice, concentrating on youth, race and ethnicity.
"Information is beautiful and knowledge is essential, but it is useless unless we find a way to internalize it, vocalize it and connect it to something outside of ourselves," Roberts said. "If you can get people to personally connect, there's a chance the ideas will be carried with them."
Roberts hopes individuals who attend will gain a new perspective on diversity and recognizing the identities of others.
"It's a very rewarding response when I get to hear people consider a new opinion and recognize that nothing is set in stone, like we are taught it is," Roberts said. "I come very firmly with the perspective that the personal is powerful. I ask people coming to the performance to really consider that statement and start the conversation from there."