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Thesis project turns into live production

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Two actors at dress rehearsal for Zu's Earth
Dress rehearsal for Zu's Earth took place the Friday before Spring Break.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Graham.

The Department of Theatre and Dance will present Zu’s Earth this month.The production was written by Sidney Rushing, dramatic writing graduate student, and directed by Isaac Byrne, second-year Masters of Fine Arts candidate in the theatre department graduate school.

Rushing said about seven years after his grandma died he was ready to write a play that reflected the family dispute over who would get the property she owned.

Rushing’s play takes place in Mississippi in the ’70s and highlights the journey of an African/Native American main character, Chili Mac. When a death occurs in his family, the barbershop in the family is up for grabs. He is unsure of his place in the family and seeks out his ancestors in the hopes of discovering his authentic self.

Rushing said he realized Native and African American histories over losing land were very similar in the way they both had to adapt to an American way of life after relocating from their roots.

“We’ve never heard the story of the true Black Indian in the states and their journey to get to where they are today,” Rushing said.

Rushing wrote the play Zu’s Earth two years ago for his graduate thesis project. Tcomplete the thesis, students were required to write ten pages every week until the play was finished.

Byrne was assigned to direct one of Rushing’s plays in August and chose Zu’s Earth. The two have since worked closely together to bring Rushing’s vision to life. Together they cast Zu’s Earth in December and after hours of rehearsals the past few months they are ready to debut it to the public.

The language was a hardship they faced when putting the play together because there are characters who speak Choctaw and others who speak Lgbo, a West African dialect.

The actors not only had to rehearse their lines but were required to do plenty of research on their characters. For instance, Hispanic actors were cast as Native Americans, so a speech teacher was brought in to teach them to speak Choctaw.

“One of the things we decided really early on was that we were going to give this show over to the cast,” Byrne said.

According to Rushing, finding talent was the easy part, but it was finding actors that fit the role of the races in the play that was a challenge. To appropriately depict the mixed Mississippi community of Creole and Natives, the cast consists of only African Americans and Hispanic actors.

Evan Ledet, theatre production junior, plays Chili Mac in the production and said Rushing is one of the most creative writers he has ever met.

“The writer of the show said a line I really liked, ‘I’m planted but in the wrong place.’ I think that really touches on a lot of things in the show like having roots in a place, but not being planted in the correct place to actually flourish,” Ledet said.

The play was named after Rushing’s great-grandmother Zu. She wanted to make sure the American Dream was possible for minority children like her grandson. Rushing said her focus was on education and land because she felt if they had those two things they could actually be okay in America.

“I want (the audience) to understand the fight for the American Dream to get that land, to get a sense of purpose in the world is not the same for everyone;it’s not an equal playing field,” Rushing said. “These people are not only victims of it but survivors of it.

Zu’s Earth will be performed March 22-24 at 7:30 p.m. and the 25 at 2:00 p.m.in the PSHF Studio Theatre. Student tickets are available online or at the window for $8 with a $2 processing fee.

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