Students perform original work at second annual ‘Black Lives, Black Words’ play festival


Allie Goulding/Daily Senior Staffer

Communication senior Robert Cunningham performs “What’s in a Name?” with fellow students Grant Lewis and Ziare Paul-Emile. The play was part of the production “Black Lives, Black Words,” which featured original works by students.

Allie Goulding, Assistant Campus Editor

After just a month of preparation, students took the stage Monday to perform their original plays for the second annual “Black Lives, Black Words” production at Northwestern.

“All of my peers … have written these words in just one month,” Communication senior Robert Cunningham told The Daily. “They’re all so powerful and they have all come from a place of hurt, or power, or beauty.”

Students performed and sang 10-minute plays responding to the question, “Do black lives matter?” This year, a capella group Soul4Real opened the performance and gospel choir Northwestern Community Ensemble closed out the show.

Communication senior Amy Parker, who is a member of Soul4Real, said the group is a “great aspect” of the black community on campus and said she was glad to be included in the performance.

“You can’t underestimate the importance of representation,” Parker said. “Having a series of plays that specifically addresses the question, ‘Do black lives matter?’ is so important on college campuses, especially in today’s climate.”

“Black Lives, Black Words” — created by playwright Reginald Edmund — is part of an international project that gives a stage to black actors to talk about the issues that are important in their communities, not just what is seen on the news, the production program said. In 2017, NU launched the “Black Lives, Black Words” College Takeover as the first university to host the event.

Edmund said often, students don’t get the opportunity to have their voice heard on large college campuses.

“The fact that these students, who often times … don’t know each other, are now getting the opportunity to work together, to share their stories and their narratives with their peers and with their instructors,” Edmund said. “It’s something that is incredibly beautiful and rare. That’s why this is such an amazing experience for these artists, to not just be artists but to be activists.”

After Soul4Real opened up the show with a performance of “Freedom” by Pharrell Williams, students then performed nine plays — each one focusing on a different issue that affects black communities — in front of an audience of over 200 people in Ethel M. Barber Theater building.

Each play was written, directed and performed by students under the guidance of a faculty mentor. Communication Prof. Aaron Todd Douglas, who produced the show, said he asked Communication faculty members of color to be mentors, adding on to the faculty that participated last year.

Cunningham performed in three plays. One of these was “What’s in a Name?” written by Communication junior Elliot Sagay, which focused on the issue of white people often forgetting or mispronouncing the names of black students in the classroom.

Cunningham told The Daily the play, as well as an online quiz created last quarter asking people to identify black actors and actresses in the NU theater community, is another way of “holding people accountable and letting them know about the problem.”

“There are so few black students involved in the theater community and at Northwestern in general,” Cunningham said. “A lot of people see us in performances and around campus, and when there’s so few people around campus, people are constantly mispronouncing our names or calling us one another. It’s just very disrespectful.”

Douglas and co-producer Communication Prof. Laura Schellhardt said they plan on continuing to host this event every year.

Cunningham said this event is important and gives students a place to come together for conversation.

“It’s a way for the majority of the Northwestern community that isn’t black or African American minorities to just come and hear what we have to say,” Cunningham said. “It’s a way for us to share with them and have them listen and learn, but also laugh and hopefully … do something about it.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the name of a play written by Elliot Sagay. The name of it was “What’s in a Name?” The Daily regrets the error.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @alliejennaphoto