‘The Till Trilogy’ Sheds New Light on History, Issues a Call to Action

The buzz continues throughout the greater Washington area as more people experience the riveting three-play event, “The Till Trilogy,” now on stage through Nov. 20 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Northeast, performed in rotating repertory and presented by Mosaic Theater Company.  

The trilogy of works includes: “The Ballad of Emmett Till,” “That Summer in Sumner” and “Benevolence.”

Written by Ifa Bayeza and directed by Talvin Wilks, Mosaic Theater’s artistic director, Reginald L. Douglas, referred to the series of plays as “a testament to the power of theater to interrogate our past, provide insight into the world around us and inspire action and empathy as we look ahead.”

Playwright, Ifa Bayeza

In fact, the playwright’s work, which focuses on the brief life and tragic murder of Emmett Till in 1955 in Money, Mississippi, sheds new light on history while calling us to action today.

Bayeza said the evolution of the work might be best described as “organic.”

“My first effort, ‘The Ballad of Emmett Till,’ when it was performed in Chicago in 2008, had wonderful moments and achieved many things but something wasn’t right to me,” she said. “I was trying to stuff too much into one play. The story was so full and rich that I couldn’t get everything in.”

“When a colleague at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles wanted to bring the ‘Ballad’ to the city, I knew that the venue was too small for the play and the ensemble. So, I began to explore how to make it manageable for small theaters. I truncated the play to just be Emmett’s story, following his journey the last seven days of his life and into the netherworld as well where he attempts to understand what has happened to him. It made it a much stronger play,” she said.  

Bayeza, while pleased with the success of “Ballad” and the two other plays that would follow, said she began the process because she wanted to highlight the details behind a youth’s rite of passage – tragically aborted because of the intrusion of white violence.

In the second and third parts of the trilogy, she also gave attention to Mose Wright, Emmett’s uncle, who witnessed the youth’s abduction and who later testified in court against the accused murders, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam – an act which placed his life and the lives of his family in grave danger.

She also brought greater attention to the corps of reporters from the Black press, specifically members of Ebony and Jet, who attended the trial and shared the details with readers across the nation.

As Bayeza said, it remains a story that we can ill-afford to forget.

“The Till saga is a national foundational myth,” she said. “It’s a story for now – it’s always a timely story. We continue to return to it because we must. This story had so many crossroads of experience from the assassinations of the Kennedys to being the spark of the Civil Rights Movement to being the synergy and beginning of social music phases and genres like rock and roll.”

“My hope as an artist is that this story will serve as a means of healing and an acknowledgement of so many others who have endured trauma over the generations. It has a poetic resonance that allows for the inclusion of numerous manifestations of symbolism that I explore throughout the three plays.”

“ Ultimately, I wanted the trilogy to lift up others, especially mothers like Mamie Till, who are still going through similar forms of trauma and the loss of children either to urban or police violence. Before we can return to battle for justice and lead the next form of protest, we must experience the grief so the healing process can begin,” Bayeza said.

“The Till Trilogy” continues through Nov. 20. For more information, go to www.mosiactheater.org.

Article by D. Kevin McNeir, for the Washington Informer.