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The Carolyn Bryant Project Traverses Time, Conjuring the Specter of Emmett Till’s Murder in Today’s Divided America.

The Carolyn Bryant Project Traverses Time, Conjuring the Specter of Emmett Till’s Murder in Today’s Divided America.
The Carolyn Bryant Project makes its world premiere at REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater). Photo: Courtesy of CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP).

Till’s death helped catalyze the modern Civil Rights movement – and the play’s evocation of the encounter between Bryant and Till in 1955 resonates in the current era of Black Lives Matter.

The world premiere production of the CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP)  opens at REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater) on May 17 and runs through May 20, 2018.  

April 30, Valencia, California—The world premiere production of The Carolyn Bryant Project examines the fateful exchange that led to a brutal murder and helped refuel the modern Civil Rights Movement. In 1955, the 14-year-old African American Emmet Till encountered the 21-year-old white woman Carolyn Bryant at Bryant's General Store in Money, Mississippi.  The events of that day led directly to Till’s death and shocked a divided nation. Directed by Nataki Garrett with Andrea LeBlanc in the role of Bryant and Jacob Gibson as Till, the production explores multiple perspectives of the encounter between Till and Bryant.

Co-created by Garrett and LeBlanc, The Carolyn Bryant Project is a production of the CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP).  It premieres at REDCAT (Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater) in downtown Los Angeles on May 17 and runs through May 20, 2018. Please click here for show times and reservations.

What happened in those fateful minutes shared between Bryant and Till? Though what took place inside the store has been the subject of much speculation, one thing is certain; within a few days, Till’s beaten body was found in the shallows of the Tallahatchie River. Bryant’s husband and his brother would be acquitted of Till’s murder by an all-white male jury, only to confess to the murder a year later in Look magazine. Carolyn Bryant maintained a public silence about that day in 1955 for six decades.

“Carolyn Bryant was the only living survivor of this story,” noted LeBlanc. “Never speaking in public about the events of 1955 until last year. Her silence and lack of acknowledgement constitute a kind of violation that granted her an amnesty” remarked Garrett. Evoking the events surrounding Till’s murder, Garrett and LeBlanc worked with historical documents, including Bryant’s expunged court testimony, video imagery, and re-imagined encounters to expose the forces that lay beneath the long-ago meeting between Bryant and Till.

In 2007, Garrett and LeBlanc were inspired by an article about Bryant in the New Orleans newspaper The Times Picayune and began their exploration of the themes that form the basis of the project. Through a series of improvisations, with LeBlanc performing and Garrett directing, The Carolyn Bryant Project took form.  

Garrett, a black woman from Oakland, California, met LeBlanc, a white woman from Lafayette, Louisiana, while the two were attending the CalArts School of Theater in the early aughts. Garrett commented “When we began, an African American man and a white woman were running for President. Emmett Till’s murder was part of a retreating past,” she said. “Now, we live in the times of the Black Lives Matter movement, alt-right racism, and incidents of the violence in Charlottesville and beyond.” Piecing together fragments of a distant era, Garrett and LeBlanc’s act of questioning begins to trace unsettling parallels to America of today.

The Carolyn Bryant Project was developed by Blank The Dog Productions and the CalArts Center for New Performance and is made possible in part though funding by the MAP Fund and Trans-Atlantic Consortium. 

Andrea LeBlanc is the Associate Dean and Co-Head of BFA Acting at CalArts’s School of Theater. She is an actor, teacher, and writer who is committed to all aspects of performance and thrives in pioneering new performance and theatre aesthetics; her experience spans feature films, independent films, traditionally-based theater, experimentally-based theater, webisodes, voice-overs, and radio. She is an alumna of the CalArts School of Theater. Full biography.

Nataki Garrett is the Associate Artistic Director of Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theater Company. Since January 2017, she has served as its producing artistic lead during their search for and on-boarding of its new artistic director, who is joining the company in May 2018. Formerly, Garrett was the Associate Artistic Director of the CalArts Center for New Performance (CNP) and the former Associate Dean and Head of Undergraduate Acting at CalArts School of Theater. She is an alumna of CalArts School of Theater. Full biography.

CalArts Center for New Performance is the professional producing arm of California Institute of the Arts, established to provide a unique artist- and project-driven framework for the development and realization of original theater, music, dance, media and interdisciplinary projects. Extending the progressive work carried out at CalArts into a direct dialogue with professional communities at the local, national and international levels, CNP offers an alternative model to support emerging directions in the performing arts. It also enables CalArts students to work shoulder-to-shoulder with celebrated artists and acquire a level of experience that goes beyond their curriculum.

California Institute of the Arts has set the pace for educating professional artists since 1970. Offering rigorous undergraduate and graduate degree programs through six schools—Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music, and Theater—CalArts has championed creative excellence, critical reflection, and the development of new forms and expressions. As successive generations of faculty and alumni have helped shape the landscape of contemporary arts, the Institute first envisioned by Walt Disney encompasses a vibrant, eclectic community with global reach, inviting experimentation, independent inquiry, and active collaboration and exchange among artists, artistic disciplines and cultural traditions.