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By Karen Abbott-Trimuel

UNIVERSITY PARK, Ill. (March 31, 2022) – On Saturday, March 26, Governor’s State University’s Center for Performing Arts invited its community members to a sneak peek of a new drama, Red Summer, which will premiere on the Center’s stage in September 2022.

Red Summer is co-written by playwrights Shepsu Aakhu and Andrew White. Shepsu Aakhu is a prolific playwright and founder and executive director of MPAACT (Ma’at Production Association of Afrikan Centered Theatre) and has written many plays chronicling the Black perspective of growing up in Chicago. Andrew White is a founding member of Lookingglass Theatre Company, where he served as Artistic Director from 2010–2016, and currently serves as the Director of Community Engagement in the company’s Department of Curiosity.

Chicago’s Red Summer

Red Summer depicts the Chicago race riots of 1919. The riots were triggered by the death of a Black youth, Eugene Williams, on July 27, 1919. He and his friends launched their raft in Lake Michigan when it drifted from a beach reserved for Blacks into an area reserved for whites. Stones were hurled at the young men, resulting in Eugene’s death. Police refused to arrest the white man responsible for the incident, which sparked the Chicago race riots.

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Red Summer is about two men whose histories and fates are co-written by historical elements outside of their control but who make choices within their power. Despite similar points of view, the two men often find themselves on different sides of the fickle coin of opportunity as they face similar choices about how best to bridge the racial divide and make the world a little less brittle and mean.

Red Summer
Red Summer cast performing “Black & Tan” (Photo: C Kimberly Gonzalez)

Preview and performance

Event attendees last Saturday were the first to view a staged musical number from the production, leaving the audience looking forward to the entire show in September. If the appetizer is a taste of the main course, the audience is definitely in for a treat.

The preview was followed by a panelist discussion and Q&A with the creative team. Sylvia Ewing moderated the conversation, and guest panelists were Dr. Phyllis Wes (Director of GSU’s Social Justice Initiative), Erica Griffin (Director of Education, Chicago History Museum), Shepsu Aakhu (playwright), Andrew White (playwright), and Shawn Wallace (composer).

From left: Erica Griffin (Director of Education, Chicago History Museum), Sylvia Ewing moderator, Dr. Phyllis Wes (Director of GSU’s Social Justice Initiative), Shepsu Aakhu (playwright), Andrew White (playwright), and Shawn Wallace (composer) (Photo: C Kimberly Gonzalez)

The discussion touched on the idea that, 100 years later, the same issues still exist in America, with one example being the George Floyd incident during the pandemic.

Aakhu said, “Living history is right now, and we need to integrate lessons to heal and learn from them.”

Wallace said, “This play is déjà vu all over again with what happened with George Floyd, the pandemic, and deaths. The past, present, and future are all now.”

Governors State is located at 1 University Parkway in University Park, Illinois. More information is available at the Governors State University Center for Performing Arts website: https://www.govst.edu/About/Center_for_Performing_Arts/.

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Karen Abbott-Trimuel is a playwright, author, motivational speaker, and freelance journalist who has lived in Lansing for 17 years. She has always been passionate about writing and storytelling and enjoys meeting and inspiring people. She has established a reputation for writing quality entertainment through her stage plays, authored two books, "Ladies Night Unmasked" and "Check Your Assets and Know Your Value – A Woman's Guide to Becoming Her Authentic Self," and written an article "Are You Happy?" for the online writer's platform Writer UnBoxed. Karen is excited by writing great stories that uplift, inspire, and strengthen the Lansing community.