Pellissippi State play explores racial injustice, inspired by true story

Rehearsal for "Blood at the Root"
The cast of “Blood at the Root” rehearses the upcoming play at Pellissippi State.

Racial justice – or lack of it – in the United States is at the center of “Blood at the Root,” a play at Pellissippi State Community College this fall.

Written by Tony Award-nominated playwright Dominique Morisseau, “Blood at the Root” was inspired by a 2006 incident in Jena, Louisiana, in which six black students were charged with attempted murder for a school fight after nooses were found hanging from a tree on campus – while the white students involved in the fight received three-day suspensions.

“Here we are, almost 20 years into the 21st century, and we are still having these conversations about valuing people – or devaluing people – based on skin color,” said Associate Professor Grechen Lynne Wingerter, who is directing the play for the Arts at Pellissippi State. “Of course it makes us uncomfortable, but it comes down to those of us who have privilege need to be listening to those who don’t. And theatre is the one way I know how to talk about difficult subjects.”

Audiences will have six chances to see “Blood at the Root” at Pellissippi State: 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, Nov. 8-9 and Nov. 15-16, and 2 p.m. Sundays, Nov. 10 and Nov. 17. There will be nightly talk-back sessions after each performance.

All performances are general seating in the Clayton Performing Arts Center on the college’s Hardin Valley Campus, 10915 Hardin Valley Road. Seating is limited, and advanced reservations for tickets are strongly encouraged.

Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $8 for Pellissippi State students, faculty and staff. They can be purchased at www.pstcc.edu/tickets.

While “Blood at the Root” is inspired by the true story of the Jena Six, the plot is multi-layered, Wingerter noted. One fictional student involved in the fight gets outed as homosexual, for example, while eyewitnesses all have different perspectives of what happened.

“The heart of it is still the inequity of the justice system in America and how our systems were set up from the beginning for this kind of inequity,” she said.

The play centers on three black students and three white students, as well as the principal of the school and the district attorney. Wingerter has cast 14 Pellissippi State students – non-named characters are members of the ensemble – while five Pellissippi State students and one Austin-East Magnet High School student join Pellissippi State faculty, staff and alumni as members of the artistic production team.

“I’ve always wanted my students to understand the power of theatre and art in general and to recognize the need for everyone to truly have a voice and be seen,” Wingerter said. “Theatre has the ability to do that.”

Wingerter hopes audiences will take away from “Blood at the Root” the courage to talk about the things that make us uncomfortable.

“The last couple of years in this country have pointed out all the things that divide us,” Wingerter said. “The only way to move forward is to be willing to be uncomfortable for a bit, to admit, ‘I haven’t lived these experiences, but I can see that that is difficult.’ It is easy to pretend that if something is not happening to us, it’s not happening. But until we talk about it, nothing is going to happen.”

The Arts at Pellissippi State is an annual arts series that includes music, theatre performances and fine arts exhibits. For more information, visit www.pstcc.edu/arts or call 865-694-6400.

To request accommodations for a disability at this event or any campus event, call 865-539-7401 or email accommodations@pstcc.edu.

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