In an article published in The Collaborative earlier this year, Toni Morrison’s play “Dreaming Emmett”–which premiered at the Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany in 1986–was remembered through a series of photographs by Joseph Schuyler as well as the personal accounts of those who worked with or knew of the famed, Nobel prize-winning author. This exploration included one of the biggest mysteries surrounding the play–why Morrison decided to scrap it, supposedly destroying every copy of its script–as well as the racism she experienced while trying to bring the work to the Albany stage.
In the piece, actor Joseph Phillips–who portrayed Emmett Till in the production–shared that, despite the widespread information that there were no more accessible copies of the script in existence, he kept a copy along with other memorabilia from the play. The NYS Writers Institute also shared they had a copy unavailable to the public. This sparked the attention of local theatre producers. This poignant play, based on the brutal lynching and murder of 14-year-old Till by a group of white men, could be brought back to life.
One local theatre professional, Aaron Moore of Acting with Aaron, has put the wheels in motion to do just that. Despite hiccups in communication with Morrison’s family and a worldwide pandemic that shut down theatrical production in the U.S. until at least 2021, he intends to make a production of “Dreaming Emmett”–if not a simpler stage reading–happen in the Capital Region once again.
Moore who has been extremely active in the local Black Lives Matter movement says that cultural revolution is driving him to make this Morrison production happen. Originally sparked by the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement has been reignited by protests around the world following the lynchings and murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many other Black individuals in the United States by the hands of police.
“The whole play resonates with the time that we are in. Those themes are coming up again,” Moore says. “This would be an important time and opportunity to share it.”
According to interviews conducted by this reporter racism and sexism may well have played a role in what by most accounts was a fraught production. .
After reading about the production in The Collaborative, Moore contacted the NYS Writers Institute, shared his intentions regarding the script and was able to get a copy. Since looking over the script, he has reached out to Morrison’s son, Harold Ford Morrison, at his Princeton office a few times since late February for his blessing to move forward on production. Though he has yet to receive a response, he says, he is waiting to receive permission from the family given Morrison’s feelings about the work.
“My plans haven’t changed,” he tells 518 Independent. “I’d like this to be a full on production… but if anything, I’d like to hear back from him just to do a reading. Since she never published it anywhere, I’d really like his permission.”
Besides sharing Morrison’s work with respect to her family and legacy, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented another roadblock that, regardless of other issues, pushes a revived production of “Dreaming Emmett” to at least next year. Moore is approaching his goal, and the reopening of theatrical production with cautiousness and hope.
“I don’t think there is anything wrong with planning for this and being hopeful for more and more phases opening which allow for larger groups of people to gather. I will wait though. I definitely won’t be the first person to do something. I’d like to see someone else do a show of some kind so I can see how we would have to go about it,” he says.
As creative director of Acting with Aaron, a local educational theatre resource, Moore has had to navigate teaching his classes–covering a range of techniques such as auditioning, scene study, acting for camera, public speaking, improv and playwriting–while keeping socially distant.
“Fortunately, we can still do online classes. I think a lot of people who couldn’t make it [to classes], or people who don’t even live in Albany but still want to take affordable acting classes are able to use this opportunity,” he says.
In late June, he took part in the “846” project in collaboration with Illuminate Theatre, Troy Foundry Theatre, Capital Repertory Theatre, Playhouse Stage Company, Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate New York and Creative Action Unlimited. The project is a response to the May 25 murder of George Floyd. Each theatre company presented eight minutes and 45 seconds of original and published work in remembrance of the time Floyd spent begging for release while a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck. Moore’s full piece, “The Eyez in the Wall,” will be released soon.
By Katie Cusack