The Fountain Theatre will host “L.A. Theatre Pays Tribute to Ed Krieger,” a virtual memorial for longtime theater photographer Ed Krieger, on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021 at 2 p.m. PT. Krieger passed away on Dec. 16, 2020.
“The Los Angeles theater community has lost a dear friend,” says Fountain artistic director Stephen Sachs. “For decades, through the lens of his camera, Ed chronicled the production history of local stages throughout Southern California.”
Born in Chicago, Krieger photographed the Southern California theater scene for more than 30 years. His production stills captured the essence of live performance at such venues as the Fountain Theatre, Skylight Theatre, Boston Court, El Portal, Laguna Playhouse, Rubicon Theatre, Downey Civic Light Opera, Ford Amphitheatre, Hollywood Bowl and many more. His images appeared in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. American Theatre magazine highlighted Krieger in its 2015 feature on nationally recognized theater photographers.
The tribute is scheduled to run 90 minutes and will include a slideshow of Ed’s photos as well as live and pre-recorded testimonials by members of the L.A. theater community.
The Fountain is requesting that organizations who worked with Ed each submit two of their favorite photos.
To register to attend the event and to upload photos and/or testimonials, CLICK HERE
The Fountain Theatre has received approval from the City of Los Angeles to install a temporary outdoor stage for the purpose of presenting live performances and other events during the pandemic.
“Pandemic permitting, we hope to open our first outdoor production by late spring or early summer,” says Fountain artistic director Stephen Sachs. “We’re planning an exciting Los Angeles premiere that dramatizes urgent social issues using the Fountain’s signature bold and theatrical approach.”
Installed in what is now the theater parking lot, the new performance area will be able to accommodate 50 to 84 audience members. It will feature seven rows of chairs, each six feet apart, as well as 12 high-top tables positioned six feet apart for use by patrons from the same “bubble” households. Every aspect of the outdoor performance area will meet COVID-19 safety guidelines.
According to Sachs, “The most painful aspect of the past ten months has been the separation from our patrons and the disconnection from our art form. Until our indoor theater reopens, the outdoor stage will be a thrilling performance venue and a hub for our educational and community engagement programs. The outdoor stage will be the centerpiece as we re-emerge in 2021. It galvanizes our vision moving forward.”
The Fountain Theatre outdoor stage is made possible, in part, by the generous support of Karen Kondazian, the Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation, Rabbi Anne Brener, Carrie Chassin and Jochen Haber, Miles and Joni Benickes, and the Phillips-Gerla Family.
Want to join our family of donors and become an integral partner in making this thrilling new venture possible? Email Barbara Goodhill at Barbara@FountainTheatre.com.
The mission of the Fountain Theatre is to create, develop and publicly produce plays that reflect the diversity of Los Angeles, to serve young people through educational outreach programs, and to enhance the lives of the public with community engagement activities. For three decades, the Fountain has earned acclaim and admiration nationwide, been honored with more than 200 awards for artistic excellence and is a leader in the L.A. theater community. The organization is proud to count L.A. City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, and Mayor Eric Garcetti as supporters, reflecting the company’s successful history of partnering with City government. In addition to being a Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs grant recipient for decades, the Fountain launched a groundbreaking program that brings celebrity actors to L.A. City Hall to perform one-night free public readings in the City Council chambers.
As the Fountain Theatre continues to add public-spirited individuals to its nonprofit arts organization, it welcomes Rabbi Anne Brener to its board of directors. She is a longtime friend and supporter of the Fountain who has enjoyed many plays and special events over the years. She also currently serves on the board of ALEPH: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal.
“The Fountain Theatre begins 2021 with a large, active, dedicated board of directors who are dedicated to guiding the organization to not only survive these difficult times, but rise above them,” says Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “Rabbi Anne Brener offers wisdom, intelligence and a compassionate heart as we trek forward. Her years of experience in community building and serving others is inspirational.”
Rabbi Anne Brener, Professor of Ritual and Spiritual Development at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, is the author of Mourning & Mitzvah: Walking the Mourners’ Path, now in its third edition. She is a Psychotherapist, Spiritual Director and Meditation Teacher, whose writing appears in many anthologies and periodicals. Anne co-founded one of California’s first Domestic Violence shelters and the Morei Derekh Jewish Spiritual Direction Training Program. She worked as a Hospice Chaplain and currently serves on the board of ALEPH: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal and Los Angeles’ Fountain Theatre. Her work has been dedicated to the study of ancient Jewish rituals and practices to harvest an understanding of the universal healing wisdom that is embedded within them.
A life in the theatre is filled with photographs. We who act, direct, write, compose, design, produce or publicize theatre make use of countless of photographs, in a career and a lifetime. Production stills, headshots, publicity photos, prints for posters, snapshots for marketing brochures. We post JPEGS of ourselves in plays and musicals on social media, upload pictures of past performances for grant applications, embed digital images into our portfolios. At the Fountain Theatre, in our archive room, we have catalogued a collection of photographs chronicling the history of our organization going back thirty years. Hundreds, probably thousands, of pictures. Black and white and in color. Most of them taken by one remarkable man: Ed Krieger.
I got heartbreaking word last week that Ed had passed away at home on December 16, 2020. He had been fighting health issues for the past year and a half, but remained in good spirits. Ed was an essential member of our Fountain Family for twenty-five years, and a beloved photographer for the Los Angeles theatre community for decades. And he was my friend.
Born in Chicago, Ed graduated from Gage Park High School on the South Side. He studied biology and theater at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. In 1985, he married Heather Blades, a graduate from UC Irvine. They each performed in plays and musicals throughout Southern California, appearing on stage together in 42nd Street and The Pajama Game at Downey Civic Light Opera. They had two children, daughter Courtenay and son Will.
Whenever I gave Ed Krieger a call to shoot photos of a current production at my theatre, I was guaranteed two things. First, I knew I would get high quality stills that captured the theatrical essence and energy of our show, shot in a professional and easy-going manner. Second, I could bank on getting a flurry of theater stories from Ed, usually about the other shows he was shooting (and their companies), his own precarious exploits as a musical actor (auditions he failed, or the ones that he aced), and the blossoming careers of his kids. I loved seeing the joy spread on Ed’s face when he spoke about Courtenay and Will, he was so clearly proud of them.
The photographs of Ed Krieger have played a crucial role in the success of my theatre. For one quarter of a century, Ed pulled up in his van outside our building on Fountain Avenue, lugged his equipment into our theatre, and took millions of pictures of thousands of our theatre artists. Multiply that by fifty, by one hundred, by two hundred other theater companies throughout the Los Angeles area and you get an idea of the immense contribution this man has made to our livelihood, our business, and our art.
I imagine that of the dozens and dozens of Los Angeles theater companies who worked with Ed Krieger over the years, each and every one thought of Ed as their photographer, he was theirs. That is just how you felt about Ed. He was yours. He was like your favorite uncle, the one you loved, the one with the camera, who laughed and joked and told stories while he happily snapped photos of you and your family.
I pray that L.A. Stage Alliance reaches out to Ed’s family at the appropriate time to secure the massive archive of images Ed has captured with his camera, all now stored at his home. In those stacks and stacks of cardboard boxes, in those miles of Kodak film, on those gigabytes of imagery, lies the history of us all. The work we have done, the art we have created, the lives we have changed, the friends we have found, the families we have made, and the city we have chronicled and helped put on the national map. Ed photographed that, for us all.
At the request of the Krieger family, those wishing to honor Ed may make a donation in his name toThe Actors Fund.
I’ve been thinking about a poem by Mary Oliver. The entire poem is only two lines. That’s all it needs. It goes like this:
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.”
2020 has been a deep box of darkness. Our task is to learn to view sorrows as gifts. That’s a hard one. The poem encourages us to do something when sorrows come, challenges us not to sit back and do nothing about them. That is what I have learned from this year.
It is hard to receive boxes of darkness. At the bottom of my box, I have found the gift of gratitude. For things big and small. As this dreadful year comes to its close, it has brought me this gift born of darkness: To be without the intimacy of the Fountain Theatre for one year makes me grateful for it even more. I hope you feel the same. While our holiday gatherings may be smaller or grid-boxed on Zoom, our hearts will surely be filled with gratitude.
With vaccinations now underway, our boxes of darkness soon will lighten. I honestly believe that the Fountain Theatre will play an essential role in the healing of our community. As we look ahead to 2021, the Fountain has ambitious plans to move forward, both online and onstage. Creating productions that illuminate what it means to be alive at this time in the world and providing impactful arts education programs for students in underserved schools across Los Angeles. All COVID-safe.
Here’s a snapshot: Our new online platform, Fountain Stream will debut a 2021 season of plays and inter-active community programs. Using innovative video technologies, we will go beyond Zoom, to give you intimate high-quality theatre that makes you think and feel. We have expanded Fountain for Youth, our arts education initiatives, with Fountain Voices, an extraordinary in-school playwriting program designed by France-Luce Benson. Our ground-breaking cops/kids residency, Walking the Beat, will return in a glorious new digital format. And, most ambitious of all, we are hopeful that in the spring of 2021, we will launch our biggest adventure next year: a thrilling Outdoor Stage in our parking lot. Live theatre under the stars! Completely COVID-compliant. Stay tuned.
But for now, the Fountain — like every theater throughout Los Angeles and across the nation — remains closed. I don’t have to tell you things are hard. For the Fountain, our earned income has ground to a halt. The Fountain’s budget has dropped by over 50%. Our building remains non-operational, still standing proud on Fountain Avenue thanks to grants, federal loans, contributions, and the private giving by you, our Fountain Family.
If you have already made a year-end donation to our campaign, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are the gift in our darkness box. Your love, friendship and support are the light that shines the way through these uncertain times. If you haven’t yet contributed, please consider doing so. Your generous holiday gift will help make the coming year possible. I am asking you to turn the sorrows of this year into a gift of gratitude. Out of darkness, light!
It was just last month that the Fountain Theatre announced it had joined forces with playwright Larry Powell, his producing partner Angelica Robinson, and their Tell Me a Story Productions to bring Powell’s exciting 12-part tragicomedy, The Gaze…No Homo to Fountain audiences. Presented via the theatre’s new digital platform, Fountain Stream, this episodic version of Powell’s live stage play has been reinvented for the digital age.
A set of three short-form episodes has premiered each Friday for the past three weeks. Now, The Gaze…No Homo comes full circle as the final set of episodes have been released. All episodes remain available for viewing on the Fountain Stream page until Dec 31.
To recap: The Gaze…No Homo centers around a young actor, Jerome Price (Galen J. Williams), as he tries to navigate his way through the increasingly uncomfortable rehearsal process of No Homo, a new play by emerging Black queer playwright Shaun Korey (Devere Rogers.) Korey is championed by Miranda Cryer (Sharon Lawrence), the straight White interim artistic director of the esteemed Evergreen Theatre Festival (“where the brightest and boldest new American voices are watered with wisdom, fed with fodder and nurtured with nourishment.”) Cryer is also the director of the world premiere of Korey’s new play.
This year, the festival has been consigned to a digital Zoomscape instead of the traditional seats-and-stage live theatre experience thanks to the COVID pandemic. In addition to the neophyte Price, No Homo features far more seasoned actors Kendrell Thompson (Eugene Byrd) and Buddy DuPois (TC Carson), and is stage managed by the experienced team of no-nosense PSM Sherry Grosse (Yvette Cason) andgender-fluid ASM Tee (Jason “Freckle” Greene.) There is much at stake here for everyone, and complicating matters is the growing dissent between Price and Cryer. As their abrasive relationship grows ever-more heated, the fate of the entire production becomes jeopardized.
The Gaze…No Homo was selected as a finalist in the prestigious 2020/2021 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. It is the first in Powell’s The Gaze cycle of plays that examines the process of building culturally specific and queer works of color in certain historically white spaces. The Gaze tackles difficult topics like racism and microagressions, and wrestles with the question, “Why strain to be free under a gaze fixed on your imprisonment, when it’s you who is holding the key?”
As we wrap up our exclusive showing of The Gaze…No Homo on the Fountain’s digital stage this month, Powell reflected back on the journey his show has taken over this past tumultuous year, and ponders the future and what he hopes it will bring.
TR: What was it like working with the Fountain Theatre this past month to present this digital reinvention of your play?
LP: If this piece can bring awareness to theatres that have been serving communities across the globe for years and who have had to close their doors due to the pandemic, I am pleased. I feel like we’ve done that at The Fountain, and that makes me proud.
TR. Would you consider another collaboration with the Fountain in the future?
LP: Of course! I would love one of my plays to be on the Fountain stage!
TR: No Homo is the first play in The Gaze cycle of plays. What is your vision for the entire cycle? How many plays are included in The Gaze? Are any of them written yet and what themes do they explore?
LP: Right now, I know there are three plays. They chart Jerome, the protagonist, as he grows older and older. I am going to start working on a new version of the second play next year. This play will focus on how we hold on to new awareness of ourselves in our art and life once we make the initial reclamation of our time and imagination. What challenges do we face? What questions do we have in that space of new consciousness?
TR: Will No Homo be presented on stage again when we return to live performances? Or will it live now as a digital presentation? What about future installments in The Gaze cycle? What form will they take?
LP: Yes. It is important to me that I continue to diversify how an audience can experience my stories. So, in every way a play can be experienced, I will lean into. A stage play, Screenplay, Teleplay, #Digiplay, Audioplay, VR play, Animated Play…. to me, it all starts with “the play.” All different structures, skill sets, and audiences but definitely all sourced in telling a story around a fire in the village.
TR. Has the success of this digital adaptation of The Gaze…No Homo encouraged you to adapt any of your previous works for digital platforms? If so, what ones?
LP: Yes and All.
TR. Was the choice of the cycle name The Gaze a conscious choice, to play on The Gays, or was it a happy coincidence?
LP: The best titles have double, triple meanings. The first play was always called “No Homo” because of the play within the play. Once I started to see the story as a cycle of works, I needed a title that spoke to a larger, more general container. The reason The Gaze sticks is because it still specifies the queer black experience as it pertains to its relationship to an oppressive gaze.
TR: You said in your Theatre Talk interview with Stephen Sachs that 2020 was a “profound year,” and you talked about “collective grief.” How have the events of 2020 shaped you as an artist? How do we, as theatre artists, as citizens, as a country, grieve our many losses this year and use them for a higher purpose?
LP: I have learned it’s important to give those loved ones, and the things we have lost, space. What I mean by that is silence and the stopping of this abusive obsession with “gotta keep going!!” Grief is a love language. We must take the time to learn it and to speak well and often. That means something different for each of us, and that’s important. We become more courageous in grief because it usually takes us to a place of surrender that opens us up to higher visions of our purpose in the world. It can, at least …if we let it. So, if you work to make firm boundaries around the space you carve out for grief … the gifts you find there are life-enhancing and heart-strengthening.
TR. What form do you prefer? Live stage or the digital small screen? Why?
LP: Well, I love the stage first. Always. That said, a story told is a story told. There are people who will run to the digital screen quicker than they would to the live stage. I want to meet both of these groups of people where they are — and I believe it is my calling to love as many forms of storytelling as possible.
TR: What’s next for you?
LP: More joy. More understanding. More peace. More love. More opportunity. More creation. More surrender. More gratitude. And always, more learning.
Terri Roberts is a freelance writer and the Coordinator of Fountain Friends, the Fountain Theatre’s new volunteer program. She also manages the Fountain Theatre Café.
The Fountain Theatre is readying Raise Your Voice – Vote!, a guerrilla style, immersive theater event set to take place over the course of two days at six locations throughout the City of Los Angeles. Watch the live-stream every hour on the hour beginning at 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET on Saturday, Oct. 24 and Sunday, Oct. 25 at www.FountainTheatre.com.
Conceived by acclaimed playwright and Fountain Theatre community engagement coordinator France-Luce Benson and co-directed by Benson and Lily Ockwell, Raise Your Voice – Vote!aims to build momentum and awareness about the upcoming election while bringing theater for the people to the people. The five-member acting ensemble (Victor Anthony, Jessica Emmanuel, Wonjung Kim, Theo Perkins and Rayne J. Raney) will present a series of pop up performances in six public spaces, each representative of L.A.’s cultural landscape. Each performance will feature America’s most iconic speeches about voting rights, plus dance and song. Volunteers will be stationed at every location to offer assistance with voter registration and voter education.
“We want to create an event that is inspirational, but never didactic,” explains Benson. “The performers will be in conversation with each other and with the people around them, blending in, respecting and embracing whichever community we’re in.”
Each of the performances will be live-streamed and will also be augmented by a series of surprise appearances, posts and performances on the Fountain Theatre’s social media pages in support of voter awareness.
Send Us Your Selfie on Voting
Want to engage in the Fountain’s newest project? We want you to upload a short selfie video (2 mins or less) of yourself expressing how important it is to vote. Nothing fancy. Can literally be taken on a smartphone. Just speak from your heart. Be passionate. What does voting mean to you? Why does voting matter? Do you have a personal story about voting? These video selfies will air at the top of each hour, from 10am to 6pm, on all Fountain social platforms and website.
You (we) cannot endorse a specific candidate.
Do not mention Trump or Biden by name.
Shoot your selfie horizontal, not vertical.
The purpose of the event is to use theatre as a trigger to activate the public to vote, to emphasize the responsibility of voting, to remind each other of the price some have paid to vote, to express the urgency to participate in this election and in our democracy.
Raise Your Voice – Vote! is produced by Stephen Sachs and Simon Levy for the Fountain Theatre. James Bennett is live-stream editor, and Terri Roberts is volunteer coordinator. The event is underwritten by Miles and Joni Benickes, Diana Buckhantz, Karen Kondazian, Maggi Phillips, Susan Stockel, Dorothy Wolpert, and Don and Suzanne Zachary. Event partners include volunteer organizations The Social Ripple Effect and Big Sunday.
For more information, to find out how you can volunteer and to live-stream Raise Your Voice –Vote! on Oct. 24 and Oct. 25, go to www.fountaintheatre.com.
If ever there was a time – and an election – to raise your voice and be heard, this is it. An unprecedented pandemic. Healthcare and welfare. Unemployment and a stalled economy. Racial reckoning. States burning or drowning under water. A country bitterly divided. The presidential contest this November 3rd may be the most consequential election of our lifetime. And every voice everywhere must be heard.
First, you have to be registered to vote. Today, September 22nd, is National Voter Registration Day. In this year of chaos and confusion, nothing could be more vital than making sure that you are able to safely cast your ballot for those individuals who you feel are the strongest representatives for your values and beliefs.
If you are not registered to vote, your voice will be silenced.
Are you registered? Are you sure? Some things to consider: have you moved? Gotten married? Want to change political parties? Any of these things affect your registration status. The good news is that checking it out is easy. So is actually registering.
Offers: Voter registration/pre-registration (at age 16 or 17)/current registration status. There’s also info on upcoming elections, elections site maps, voting technology, statewide election results, and more.
Offers:Check registration/register to vote, polling place locators, info on how to become a poll worker, and COVID-19/election information. They also have a guide that outlines your voting rights, and an Election Protection Hotline to call for help if anyone tries to prevent you from voting: 1-866/687-8683 (866/OUR-VOTE).
Offers: COVID-19 alerts and personalized voter info that includes registration, status check, poll location, ballot info, upcoming area debates, and more. Sponsored by the League of Women Voters Education Fund.
Offers:Voting resources, a Vote by Mail FAQ, and actions you can take
Vote By Mail
Beginning with the November 3, 2020 General Election all registered voters will be mailed a Vote by Mail ballot to ensure a safe and accessible voting option during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mailing of Vote by Mail ballots in all elections begins 29 days prior to Election Day. For more information, click here.
Raise Your Voice: Vote!
The Fountain Theatre believes voting is so important that we will be going directly to the people to spread the word. Keep a watchful eye out in late October. The Fountain will be launching a citywide immersive theatre project, Raise Your Voice: Vote to highlight the issues of voting rights and raise awareness in unexpected ways.
“The cultural landscape of Los Angeles personifies why voting is so imperative,” explained Community Engagement Coordinator France-Luce Benson, who conceived of the project. “There is so much history here, so much incredible cuisine, and so many amazing and varied artistic voices. Every one of those voices matters, and every voice must be counted. If we want our city, and our country, to continue to grow and thrive – we must vote!”
“Raise Your Voice: Vote continues the Fountain Theatre’s long history of creating and producing new work that we hope will inspire social action,” agreed artistic director Stephen Sachs. “With the public forbidden to come to our theatre right now, we are taking our theatre to the streets. I believe we can use this period of forced closure as an opportunity to break free from the four walls of our building. To engage the public in dynamic new experiences which encourage each citizen to vote.”
Friday, August 28th, marked the 65th anniversary of the vicious murder of an innocent 14-year-old black youth named Emmett Till. His cold-blooded, colder-hearted killing, and the events surrounding and following his funeral, became the kick-starter events of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement in 1955. The Fountain Theatre recognized that landmark anniversary in two ways: with the reunion of the original director and cast of our award-winning 2010 production of The Ballad of Emmett Till, by poetic playwright Ifa Bayeza, and by navigating this new COVID-19 world of virtual theatre by presenting the show in a unique, forward-thinking beyond-the-Zoom-Room format.
Three hundred and forty-eight people bought $20 tickets for the livestream premiere of this re-imagined digital model of theatre. The five actors – Bernard K. Addison, Rico Anderson, Lorenz Arnell, Adenrele Ojo, and Karen Malina White – performed from their own individual, safely distanced locations, and coordinated with director Shirley Jo Finney and each other via Zoom on their computer screens. But gone was the normally pedestrian cyberscape of living room stages with bookcase backdrops. This fresh digital production of Emmett Till was dramatically enhanced with the use of props, costumes, music, sound, visual effects and cinematic techniques. The resulting hybrid of stage and digital filmmaking made for an exciting and invigorating step forward into the new frontier of virtual theatre.
If you were not able to catch the premiere, you needn’t worry. The livestream premiere was video recorded. The Ballad of Emmett Till is available for a pay-per-view rental of $20 at www.fountaintheatre.com until December 1st.
“What a stunning presentation!” wrote playwright Bayeza after Friday’s premiere. “The commitment and creative investment so enlivened the digital performance, introducing whole new dimensions and possibilities.Shirley Jo, the way you angled the car scenes, Emmett’s dancing in the water, the integration of sound and environments–all were exquisite surprises. The ensemble was marvelous again. Karen’s magical shifts of character are so seamless, you don’t even notice it’s the same actor! All in all, simply superb!”
Other viewers agreed:
“Shirley Jo Finney exceeded the medium and brought new meaning to each of the characters. Bravo! Bravo!” – Steven Williams
“Thank you for such an AMAZING virtual presentation! It was PHENOMENAL!!!! BRAVO!!!” – Cynthia Kitt
“Wonderful work in this crazy world!” – Taylor Bryce.
“Powerful production!” – Shawn Kennedy
“I was initially a bit cautious about watching on my computer but the direction drew me right in. I loved the use of photos and other visuals to create a sense of place. And the acting was superb. Very moving.” – Lois Fishman
“It was very powerful and beautifully done. The cast was amazing. Please convey my appreciation to all of them as well as to Shirley Jo Finney for the beautiful direction.” – Diana Buckhantz
“I’m so proud of what we created,” said Fountain Theatre artistic director Stephen Sachs. “I’m thrilled that the Fountain is leading the way in developing new ways to tell stories and keep the connection with our community alive.” The pay-per-view event is a budgetary victory as well. Online ticket sales and generous contributions from longtime Fountain donors Susan Stockel and Barbara Herman ensured that Emmett Till was fully funded by its first airing.
The success of Emmett Till hashttps://www.fountaintheatre.com/fountain-digital/the-ballad-of-emmett-till-2020 demonstrated that this form of digital theatre is both viable and profitable, and can help the Fountain keep its doors metaphorically open while we are still in pandemic mode. And while we will certainly continue to present free digital content via the bi-monthly installments of Saturday Matinees and Theatre Talk, as well as other programming and readings as they present themselves, you can also expect to see more livestream/digital pay-per-view productions to come.
Is there something special you would like to see in this new format? A past Fountain production with a small cast you think should be rebooted? We’d love to know what you’d love to see. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your thoughts.
On August 28, 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was abducted from the home of his great uncle, Mose “Preacher” Wright, in the still-dark hours of a Mississippi morning. The two abductors were white; one of them carried a flashlight and a gun. Together, they forced the black teenager into the back of a pick-up truck and drove off. Three days later, Emmett’s naked, bloated body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River. He had been savagely beaten, shot in the head, and his face mutilated beyond recognition. A heavy, metal cotton gin fan had also been tied around his neck – with barbed wire.
The boy’s body was so disfigured that Mose Wright could only identify him by the distinctive ring he was wearing. It was silver, square-shaped, and had belonged to Emmett’s deceased father. It was engraved with the initials L.T.: Louis Till.
This Friday, August 28, marks the 65th anniversary of the murder of Emmett Till. His death, and its aftermath, are largely credited with sparking the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks had Emmett Till on her mind when she refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger. She thought about going to the back of the bus. But then she thought about Emmett Till and couldn’t do it.
To honor him, and in recognition of all the challenges for racial equality that have followed from then till now, the original cast and director of the Fountain Theatre’s widely acclaimed, multiple award-winning 2010 production of The Ballad of Emmett Tillby Ifa Bayeza will reunite for a live-streamed reading of the play. This highly produced presentation, which includes music, sound, and visual imagery, will take place at 4 p.m. PT / 7 p.m. ET and be available this year for on-demand viewing at www.fountaintheatre.com/fountain-digital/the-ballad-of-emmett-till-2020. Pay-per-view tickets are $20.00. Shirley Jo Finney again directs Bernard K. Addison, Rico E. Anderson, Lorenz Arnell, Adenrele Ojo and Karen Malina White, all reprising their original roles in Bayeza’s powerfully theatrical intermingling of history, mystery and legend, punctuated with music and poetry.
And on Thursday, August 27, Fountain Theatre artistic director Stephen Sachs will chat with playwright Bayeza during his bi-monthly installment of Theatre Talk at 4 p.m. PT / 7 p.m. ET. That conversation will air live on Zoom, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the Fountain website at http://www.fountaintheatre.com.
Emmett’s mother, Mamie, had warned her son before he left their Chicago home that the Mississippi Delta was a whole different world than he was used to when it came to race relations. Segregation was a stricter practice down in the Delta. She worried that her fun-loving son, who was known for telling jokes and pulling pranks, and who used whistling to help control a stutter, could easily find himself in trouble in the unforgiving Jim Crowe south without realizing it.
She was right.
When Mamie was told of the terrible news, she insisted that the body of her only child – who she fondly called Bobo – be returned to Chicago. According to a January 11, 2003 article in The Washington Post following her death on January 6th, Mamie collapsed at the train station when she saw what was left of her son and cried out, “Lord, take my soul.”
Mamie became determined that her son would be seen, exactly as death left him. He would not disappear, like driftwood floating down the Tallahatchie River, to be remembered only by friends and family and then, finally, to be forgotten altogether. No, she wanted his killers, and indeed the whole world, to see what racial hatred, ignorance and bigotry was doing everyday, without regret, to black people everywhere, and what it had done to one particularly cherished life. A young black life that mattered.
“Let the people see what they did to my boy,” Mamie Till famously said. And they have, for 65 years. Today, a simple Google search easily pulls up a plethora of photos, articles, and books about the life and death of Emmett Till, including historian Elliot J. Gorn’s 2018 book, Let the People See, and Timothy B. Tyson’s 2017 book, The Blood of Emmett Till.
Till’s brutal death was already making headlines, and Mamie invited even more media to cover the funeral and the viewings, including the well-known black publication, Jet magazine (which created The Emmett Till Project to commemorate the 60-year anniversary of his death and the trail that followed.) She insisted on an open casket – albeit, one with a glass top because the stench from the decaying body in the Illinois summer sun was overwhelming. She invited the public to attend. And they did, by the thousands. The viewing of Emmett Till’s body went on for four days.
From the same TWP article: “Thousands lined the streets outside the Chicago funeral home. Thousands more walked past the open casket. They wept. They wailed. They seethed.
Photographers snapped close-ups of a boy’s body so disfigured that the human eye instinctively turns away. Those hideous pictures galvanized a nation.
All but two of Bobo’s teeth were missing. His ear was gone, an eye detached, his face and body horribly swollen after 72 hours in the Tallahatchie River.
His crime? This young black boy from Chicago spending the summer with relatives didn’t really understand Jim Crow. To impress friends, it is alleged that he talked fresh or whistled at a married white woman in Money, Miss.
That’s all it took to end a life.
A couple of weeks later, a trial was held for 24-year old Roy Bryant and his half-brother, 36-year-old John William “J.W.” Milam, in a segregated courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi. Bryant was the husband of Carolyn Byrant, the woman who had accused Till of “ugly remarks” and vague improprieties. The Bryant’s also owned the small store that Till and his friends had stopped at to buy some bubble gum. (The site of Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market is now memorialized with a Mississippi Freedom Trail Marker.)
Mose Wright chose to appear at the trial. This short-statured black man stood tall that day in court when he pointed to his nephew’s accused white killers, Bryant and Milam, and positively identified them. Then, after less than an hour of deliberation, the all-white jury declared the men “not guilty.” The state, the jury claimed, had failed to prove the identity of the body. A separate kidnapping charge was also filed against the pair, but they never were indicted.
Both men eventually died of cancer: Milam in 1980 and Bryant in 1994. In 2017, Carolyn Bryant confessed to The Blood of Emmett Till author Timothy B. Tyson that the 14-year-old-boy from Chicago had never accosted her, or touched her, in any way. “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” she said.
In the more than five decades that have passed since August 28, 1955, thousands of other black men, women and children have needlessly died as the result of racial violence and divisiveness. They breathe no more, but the Civil Rights Movement continues. We march for the fallen, and we say their names: Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Trayvon Martin. Tamir Rice. Philando Castile. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. And so many more.