Home » Events » Emmett Till: A River | Theatre of Yugen

Emmett Till: A River | Theatre of Yugen

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Date(s) - 10/01/2013
7:00 PM - 8:15 PM



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Emanating from an unlikely synthesis of African American and Japanese poetic and musical expressions that explore the story of the 14 year-old boy whose brutal murder in 1955 shocked the world, Emmett Till: A River will be a theatrical and poetic rendering of Emmett Till’s life, one that resonates with its impact on American history.

Emmett Till: A River is being developed by poet composer Kevin Simmonds, and poet and Yugen Artistic Associate Judy Halebsky, in collaboration with the Yugen Ensemble and Artistic Director Jubilith Moore. Our examination is a powerful and intimate exposure to a historical story that has had little coverage and virtually no performance based renderings.

In 1954, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American, traveled from Chicago to spend the summer in Money, Mississippi with his uncle Mose Wright. After allegedly whistling at Carolyn Bryant, a white woman, he was kidnapped from his uncle’s home, brutally beaten, shot in the head, body weighted down by a 70-pound cotton gin fan and thrown into the Tallahatchie River. His waterlogged body was returned to Chicago and, at the insistence of his mother Mamie Till, was displayed for thousands at an open casket funeral. The photograph of his open casket became an iconic image that circulated throughout the world and Emmett Till immediately became a symbol of the Civil Rights Movement.

In our treatment of this tragic story we turn to the conventions of Noh – The music is highly percussive. The actors sing and chant their lines. The costumes are sumptuous showpieces, the spare set is composed of a few symbolic elements, and the text is epic in nature – a poetic recounting of a familiar cultural figure’s spiritual struggle. The overall experience is a meditative transport to an otherworldly state.


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