The topic of race relations remains an uneasy one in Tallahassee. Another way to examine the topic is through the lens of the performing arts, especially when the issue is placed into the framework of a classic tragedy.
Laura Johnson, executive director of Southern Shakespeare, said the telling of this tale has now become a local tradition.
“’A Town Divided’ is a story of Romeo and Juliet, race and our city. This is the third year we’re doing it and it’s being sponsored by Tallahassee Community College as part of their Black History Month calendar.”
Johnson said the community remains largely segregated; 52 years after Leon County closed its last segregated school.
“It is one of the most segregated cities in the nation. And there are clearly racial divides. So to be able to address it and raise social awareness, doing theatre for social change matters a lot to me and certainly to the company. And so this gives us an opportunity to do that and make a difference in our city.”
Adding to the power of “A Town Divided,” says Johnson, is the fact that all the action hits very close to home. Literally.
“This particular play is actually taken from Tallahassee residents and stories of Tallahassee residents; from couples who have been in interracial relationships and experienced racism in our city. We’ve taken those stories and we’ve woven them into this one-hour production, which is based on Romeo and Juliet.”
The players are actual teenagers whose interracial relationship is roundly condemned by both their families under the guise of protecting the kids from an intolerant society. Johnson says there will be two “open to everyone” performances of “A Town Divided” this week.
“The production opens Wednesday (Feb. 12). 6 p.m. at Turner Auditorium (on the Tallahassee Community College campus.) It’s being done in partnership with the Black History Month Festival. So there’s an opening night reception and silent auction ahead of the performance at 7:30 p.m.”
Thursday evening will feature the stage drama only, starting at seven-thirty. Then, on Friday, Johnson said there will be a special mid-day performance.
“Geared toward our high school students. Most of them have already studied Romeo and Juliet or are currently studying Romeo and Juliet, so it’s being supported by the Leon County School Board. We’re able to bring our Leon County school students into TCC’s Turner Auditorium to see the performance.”
Which will also include an added dimension.
“We have, moderated by (TCC Professor) Andrea Oliver, this panel talkback. So we have community conversations that are happening with the students after the production. It affords them an opportunity to share their insights, ask questions and have conversations with the folks on the panel.”
For more information about “A Town Divided,” check out: www.southernshakespearefestival.org.