U-M Theatre & Drama Presents “Blood at the Root”

Blood at the Root is a play by award-winning
playwright, School of Music, Theatre & Dance alumna, and Detroit native Dominique Morisseau. It is based on an incident and trial in Jena,
Louisiana in 2006. Six black male students at Jena High School
who came to be known as the Jena Six were arrested after a schoolyard fight between
them and a white male student. The fight took place amid mounting racial
tension after three black students sat under a tree in the schoolyard where only white
students sat. The next day, three nooses were hanging from
the tree. The six black male students were charged with
attempted second degree murder and conspiracy. They faced up to 100 years in prison without
parole. The Jena Six case sparked major protests nationally
by those who viewed the arrests and subsequent charges as excessive and racially discriminatory. I first started working on this piece when
I was in graduate school. I attended Penn State University, that’s where I did
my graduate study in acting and our program, what they do is commission a playwright to
write a play for the third year graduate acting class at the time. So each class gets their own commissioned
playwright. My class was lucky enough to get Dominique
Morisseau. She wrote Blood at the Root for our class. I originated the role of Raylynn and we had
somewhere around 153 performances. What I realized in doing Dominique’s work
is that you are forced to go from actor to activist without choice. It is the nature of the work, the conversations
that are started, what it does within a community, you become a vehicle and I think with work
that is so potent, so relevant and so powerful we have a responsibility as actor/activist
to engage with the community that witnesses the work. The outreach aspect part of the show is extremely
important and I think it is important because Blood at the Root in itself is so specific to
the times that we are living in right now. We spoke to Dominique Morisseau and somebody
asked her how would she write the show if it were happening right now, like if it was
in 2017 how would she write it. And she said she wouldn’t write it any differently. Like this is so relevant. Jena Six was 10 years ago, you kind of hear
about it now and you read about it and like that could totally happen tomorrow. What has been super key for me as the actor
working on the show is the realization that these events happened 10 years ago but not
a lot has changed. Not a lot has changed. Reading it in the news is one thing, but I
feel like to empathize and understand the motivations behind why people do what they
do, I think this play gives audiences an opportunity to do that. So the outreach that we’re doing is extremely
important because there are multiple people on this campus, in this community who need
to know the kind of work that we are doing and this can help engage in some of those conversations. So talkbacks are very important, I was very
excited to hear that we are able to have talkbacks following every performance. And then also going a step further, and setting
up panel discussions to give a “what next” and that’s really, really important and I’m
so excited to be here at Michigan and a part of that. Reaching high school students is also something
that’s really, really important to the social justice initiative around this production. I think it is important for young people to see
this show because presenting content like this that is relatable to them, the fact that
the characters are all in high school, the fact that they are facing these issues and
that this is just a little over a decade ago, it could very well have been these students
that we are showing this show to. It is teaching them content in a way that
is tangible and relatable so that they can understand and articulate it. This cast, they are talented, I knew that
when they auditioned. I did not know how passionate they were as
instruments for social change and that’s been something that has come up through the process
and that’s been very inspiring for me, they are all little activists in their own right
within the Michigan community and they take what they’re doing to a whole other level,
more than just theater, more than just acting. It serves a purpose and they bring that purpose
into the rehearsal space so I’ve been blessed by their presence and their, um… their spirit…yeah ♫ [Music] ♫

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