The Work Begins for The Till Trilogy
The full cast and creative team of The Till Trilogy joined playwright Ifa Bayeza and director Talvin Wilks for a 30 hour gathering this week to continue work on Mosaic's epic undertaking after last summer's one night reading of each of these three remarkable new works. The days have been rich with discoveries, explorations, and experimentations that have proven both clarifying and invigorating. Ifa and Talvin kicked the workshop off by tracing the origins of the three plays that comprise the trilogy — The Ballad of Emmett Till, That Summer in Sumner, and Benevolence — and outlining some of the research that inspired and informed their respective developments. They also offered the company insights into the history surrounding the brutal murder of Emmett Till and the conflicting stories that emerged in its aftermath. The reflections Ifa has shared about some of the figures from whom she collected first-hand accounts have been particularly fascinating, adding layers to the narratives featured in documentaries like Eyes on the Prize (1987) and The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till (2005).
Much of the remaining time has been spent delving deeply into the scripts. Particular attention has been given to That Summer in Sumner, which Ifa continues to fine-tune in anticipation of its world premiere next spring. The company has also been investigating imbrications and resonances across and between the three pieces, which will be presented in repertory for the first time at Mosaic. Perhaps what has struck me most while witnessing various conversations unfold over the past few days is just how alive the histories that The Till Trilogy theatricalizes remain in the present. As we were discussing the important role that the national black press played in documenting and circulating news about Till’s murder, which That Summer in Sumner grippingly explores, I, for example, couldn’t help but think about the recent decisions to discontinue the Chicago Defender’s print edition and to auction off Jet and Ebony Magazines’s extensive photo archives. What will these institutional losses mean for the ongoing struggles for justice that Till’s murder helped galvanize? (The Justice Department announced just a few days ago it would drop charges against the officer involved in the chokehold death of Eric Garner). To be sure, it has been quite a gift to commence work on these plays so many months ahead of their first performances. I anticipate that the next few days of the workshop will be equally fruitful and look forward to sharing additional reflections on the process in future posts.
Isaiah M. Wooden is Assistant Professor of Theater Arts at Brandeis University and served as a lead Production Dramaturg for Mosaic Theater Company on our "Native Son Rep" in Season Four.