The Killing of Emmett Till
Shocking murder in 1955, which ignited the civil rights movement, becomes moving drama.
Any human is capable of absolutely anything at any given time. Live theater presents behavior and stories often more tragic and perfect than we experience in our average lives. With The Ballad of Emmett Till, presented by Renaissance Theaterworks, you will learn of the dark and horrific potential of man’s inhumanity to man.
Fourteen year-old Emmett Till was visiting family in Mississippi in 1955 and allegedly engaged in the unthinkable—speaking to a married 21 year-old white woman. This transgression was impetus for two men to gouge out one of his eyes, shoot him in the head and dump his young body into the murky waters of the Tallahatchie River.
To make matters worse, two men were charged in Till’s murder but were acquitted. Adding insult to injury they later admitted to the killing in Look magazine but were protected by the law’s “double jeopardy” clause. The Emmett Till killing became a national cause celebre and shocked many people in the north as to how brutal life was for blacks in the south.
Even today Till’s story still hits a social nerve, bringing to mind the Black Lives Matter campaign. Simeon Wright, Till’s childhood friend once said in Smithsonian magazine that Till loved to tell jokes and loved for people to tell him jokes. He really had no sense of danger. He was an innocent victim, struck down simply for being black.
Suzan Fete is the artistic director of Renaissance Theaterworks and says each season the company produces three plays that examine the complexities of the human heart. She says Ifa Bayeza’s play about Emmett Till accomplishes this brilliantly.
“We chose to produce The Ballad of Emmett Till to commemorate the 60th anniversary of his death,” Fete says. “It is a little shocking to me how few people know Emmett Till’s story. His kidnapping and brutal murder ignited the Civil Rights Movement and changed our country forever.”
Fete says people familiar with Emmett Till know about his death. “Playwright Ifa Bayeza, director Marti Gobel and our outstanding ensemble of all local actors and musicians tell the story of Emmett’s life. The play is told from Emmett’s perspective and it is a very joyful story…until it’s not.”
Renaissance Theaterworks has cast Marques Causey as Till and he’s joined by five additional actors and three musicians to help tell Till’s story.
“I want the audience to leave our theater asking, ‘Where can I learn more about this time in our history?’ Fete says. “I think there will be a wide variety of opinions (regarding the play), probably as varied as each individual audience member.”
Playwright Ifa Bayeza is the sister of playwright Ntozake Shange, known for the play-turned-movie, For Colored Girls. Together they have both had quite an impact on the racial discourse in America.
The show at the Broadway Theater Center runs from Oct. 23-Nov. 15.