The Old Oak Tree didn’t have a sign saying “Whites Only” but it was known that only whites sat under it. One day, three black students decided to sit under that tree in the shade. The next day, three nooses were hanging from it. This set off a series of events starting with a fight between football players and ending with six black male teens on trial for attempted murder.
Playwright Dominique Morisseau based Blood at the Root on true events that took place in 2006 at Jena High School in Jena, Louisiana. More than just a historical account of real events, the play takes us on a journey that questions how we feel about justice, bias, and identity. It asks the question, “Where do I belong?”
In 2014 when the play premiered, we had a black President and were loving — as some would call it — a “post racial” America. It was before Ahmaud Aubrey and George Floyd and Donald Trump. Perception is reality and our world was rocked with the reality that there has always been a group of people who never felt they belonged. That — from beauty products, to movies, to toys, to leadership — there were not people who looked like them. The Covid 2020 spring and summer was a wakeup call for some and a “finally you see” from others. So now the question is, “What are we going to do about what we know?” Our society is so polarized. We’ve become so black and white in our thinking in a world that is so full of color.
An actor is taught never to judge a character, but rather to step inside that person’s skin — into their soul — to try to see why they are the way they are, believe the way they believe, and experience life the way they do. An actor can never say, “I would never do that,” nor can he or she try to clean up a character to make them what the actor wants.
As I worked on Blood at the Root these thoughts crossed my mind: What if we all lived life the way the actor works? What if — instead of looking at one’s hat, shirt, bumper sticker, religious affiliation, gender, or race — we looked inside a person and based our decisions simply on who that person is. What if, instead of judgement, we looked at each other with curiosity and wonder? I wonder why you think that way? I wonder what happened in your life to make you believe the things you believe? I wonder who you really are? What if we opened our dinner tables? Have a meal with me and let’s talk about it. Man! Our world would look so different right now.
Blood at the Root takes the story of the Jena 6 and gives it a deeper meaning: Where do I belong and how can I make others feel like they belong?
We have a lot of information now. There are no more excuses. What are we going to do?
Tracey Copeland Halter
(Director) has a BA in Theatre from the University of Michigan and an MFA in Acting from New York University. She teaches Theatre 100, Acting 220 and 221 and co teaches a special topics class, in diverse acting methods. Her professional acting credits include Seven Guitars, (Broadway) Richard III and Two Gentlemen of Verona, (New York Shakespeare Festival); Two Trains Running, (Denver Center); Once On This Island, Much Ado About Nothing, and 4 productions of A Christmas Carol, (The Alliance Theatre); Cymbeline, Much Ado About Nothing, School for Wives, and Midsummer Night’s Dream, (GA Shakespeare Festival.) The Hot Mikado, (Houston/Pittsburgh tour), and Spunk and Jar the Floor, (Jomandi Theatre); Fences, Intimate Apparel, Ain’t Misbehavin’, A Christmas Carol, Black Pearl Sings, The Miracle Worker, Violet, and Candide (Clarence Brown Theatre). She has directed at Ball State University, The Word Players and Clarence Brown Theatre.