SMTD's 'Insurrection' plays with importance of past and present

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 - 5:45pm

SMTD's Department of Theatre & Drama will close their 2016-2017 season over the next two weekends with their performance of “Insurrection: Holding History” in the Arthur Miller Theatre.

An intense, chilling recollection of the roots of the Nat Turner slave rebellion, “Insurrection: Holding History” was written by Robert O’Hara and originally performed in the late 1990s. The plot follows the protagonist, Ron, a black college senior at Columbia University, who is struggling to write his college thesis surrounding slavery. In a reunion with his 189-year-old great grandfather, Ron is convinced to travel back in time to the year 1831 — the eve of Nat Turner’s uprising. In a journey through time and history, Ron confronts the idea of freedom and learns about himself, the realities of slavery and the world around him.

The cast is comprised of nine BFA Theatre Performance majors, ranging from freshman to juniors, including Aaron Huey, who stars as Ron, and Elyakeem Avraham, who plays Nat Turner. The University also welcomes director Timothy Douglas back for his second show at Michigan. Douglas, who has directed the piece more than once, is joined by Eleanor Howell-Shryock, a senior design and production candidate and assisted by Sophomore BFA Directing major Bruna d’Avila.

D’Avila has had experience working in both the department and on student productions around the University; however, she claims that this experience is unlike any she has ever had.

“Timothy is a genius. His work is very, very theatrical, and I really think it is the kind of work our department needs to see," d'Avila said. "Sometimes, in the world of theatre, we focus so much on realism, and we forget how creative we can be. Timothy has really guided the cast to realize how high the stakes are in this play, and be as theatrical with their choices as possible.” 

Because the show is so ethnically and racially specific, d’Avila comments on the importance of that specificity and the process of working with these aspects of the piece.

“It was important for the actors to have open conversation with one another and the creative team to understand where this show came from,” d'Avila said. One of the most interesting parts of the process for her was to “observe the cast grow and understand their identities more. It was almost as if the actors learned who they were through the characters, and the implications of the show.”

D’Avila was sure to mention how unique the all-encompasssing show is. The show has an underlying dichotomy (the split between past and present) and handles incredibly serious topics well. D'Avila believes that the playwright possesses a powerful technique when it comes to talking about slavery in a way which honors the ancestors.

Following a few performances of “Insurrection: Holding History,” members of the cast and crew will be holding a talkback. This provides a space for the audience to speak on issues raised in the play and ask the team questions about their experience working on the show.

“This cast has put a ridiculous amount of energy into this show because it matters so much to them. It is so real,” d’Avila said. “You will laugh, you will cry and you will think a lot differently about the history of slavery from what you’ve learned from history textbooks. This show is really important, especially today, because it teaches us that we must take action and change things that we think are wrong and unjust in our own time.”