CCM Acting alumni and students perform in LA Writers Center's 'Strange Fruit'
Crossing lines of gender, race, religion and sexuality, the virtual play is presented on Sept. 26
Part one of Jon Bastian's Strange Fruit was live-streamed on August 29 and can be viewed online.
Co-directed by Martin Bedoian and LA Writers Center Producing Artistic Director Che'Rae Adams (MFA, '97), Strange Fruit shares the experiences of key people who are part of the systemic history of bigotry in America.
The play interweaves the tale of Billie Holiday's signature song "Strange Fruit" and Abel Meeropol, the Jewish Communist school teacher who composed it; the story of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, whose children were adopted by Meeropol after the Rosenbergs were executed during the Red Scare; lynching victims Mary and Hayes Turner; and Matthew Shepard, the young gay man whose murder led to federal hate crime legislation in his name.
CCM Acting alumnus Matthew Fox (BFA, '20) plays Matthew Shepard, who was brutally attacked and left tied to a fence to die near Laramie, Wyoming, on Oct. 6, 1998.
"Matt is an excellent actor and a dream to work with," Adams says. "He is funny, kind, and has an excellent work ethic. I knew from having attended CCM that if I called the Acting Department and asked for recommendations, I would get students/recent graduates who could handle the material. It is a tough script and a huge challenge, so I needed actors with the kind of excellent training that the CCM Acting Department provides."
Current CCM Acting students Frankie Chuter and Reid Robison play Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, who were both convicted of Shepard's murder but they were not charged with a hate crime. Shepard's murder brought national and international attention to hate crime legislation at both the state and federal level and led to the passing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009.
Strange Fruit opens as Matthew Shepard is brought to the fence where he ultimately dies. While at the fence, he meets historical figures including James Baldwin, Oscar Wilde, Billie Holiday, Walter White, Anne and Abel Meeropol, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg and Mary and Hayes Turner. "As he learns about their history, he is simultaneously learning the role he plays in our country's history, and he, in a way, is taking on the mantle," Adams says.
The LA Writers Center presents Strange Fruit as part of its "Breathe" reading series, which was born out of a need to tell BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ stories. Normally, the organization would present the readings in front of a live audience of around 100 people, but due to the pandemic, the readings will be presented online and live-streamed on Facebook. Adams says that the online readings have a larger reach because anyone from any location can watch them. Around 600 viewers from all over the world watched part one of Strange Fruit, she says.
"We hope that these important stories will be heard and that we can move people with these stories," Adams says. "We hope that audiences are transformed by the events in these stories and are therefore more willing to protect the lives and rights of our BIPOC communities."
Che'Rae Adams is the Producing Artistic Director of the LA Writers Center. She has also been the Director of Programming for the Moss Theater in Santa Monica, Development Executive for Playhouse Pictures Studios, Co-Artistic Director of the Road Theatre Company and Managing Producer for the LA Women’s Theatre Festival.
She began her career as the Assistant to the Staff Producer at the Mark Taper Forum where she worked on the writing workshop of the Pulitzer Prize winning Angels in America, Part II: Perestroika. She also coordinated the Taper Lab Series and Mentor Playwright's Series working with writers such as Luis Alfaro, Anthony Clarvoe, Marlane Meyer, David Lee Lindsey, Oliver Mayer, Ellen McLaughlin, Alice Tuan and Mac Wellman. She has a Masters Degree in directing from the University of Cincinnati, College Conservatory of Music (CCM) where her thesis production of Amadeus was nominated for "Best Production of the Year" by the Cincinnati Enquirer. She also has a Bachelor of Arts Degree from California State University, Northridge.
Adams has directed/dramaturged the West Coast premiere productions of several new plays including pieces by Lee Blessing, Ken Hanes, Patricia Cardosa, John DiFusco, Jon Bastian and Abi Morgan. She has also directed/dramaturged for Cincinnati Opera Outreach, Disney/ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop, Highways Performance Space and Troupe Vertigo at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater. She has worked with prominent performers such as Tonya Pinkins, Lynn Redgrave, Patti Cohenour, Kim Fields, Ser Anzoategui and Carlos Alazraqui. She has worked with award-winning directors and choreographers such as Vincent Paterson, Tom Hulce, Bonnie Story, Kitty McNamee and Tina Kronis.
Adams has taught acting and writing workshops at various institutions around the country such as Hussian College, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Catholic University, Miami Dade University, California State University, Fullerton, UCLA Extension and Azusa Pacific University. She has also served on panels for Hollins University, the New Playwright’s Festival at the College of the Desert and the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. Adams is a published author and the recipient of a Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation Observership award, has been on the Steering Committee of the Directors Lab, West for over a decade and is an award-nominated and critically acclaimed theater director.
Featured image at the top: A promotional image for the LA Writers Center "Strange Fruit" online play reading. Photo/LA Writers Center.
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