Curtain Call: Sundown in Southern Illinois
What: Sundown in Southern Illinois (live theater / performance art)
When: 2010-10-28 - 2010-10-30
As October nears its end, most people naturally turn their thoughts to Halloween, and the good-natured fun that comes with adrenaline-filled scares stemming from constant images of ghosts, ghouls, and goblins. The SIU Speech Communication department, however, issues an invitation for audiences to reflect upon an all-too-real fear that took many lives and the peace of mind of many more as it presents Elena Esquibel's Sundown in Southern Illinois. The performance takes place Thursday through Saturday, October 28 through October 30 at 8 p.m. in the Marion Kleinau Theatre on the second floor of the SIU Communications Building.
The danger in Sundown in Southern Illinois comes from the real-life terror of heavily enforced "sundown" ordinances in many towns across Southern Illinois, a horror that lived on for years after desegregation became the law of the land in the landmark 1954 Brown versus the Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court.
"Sundown" refers to the sometimes official, sometimes unofficial laws that forced all non-whites, particularly African Americans, to leave a city or county before nightfall. Created, written, and directed by Elena Esquibel, a doctoral student in speech communication from Los Angeles, the performance piece, featuring a cast of seven, consists of monologues based on interviews with more than thirty residents of Southern Illinois who grew up in the era of the sundown town.
Reached after a recent rehearsal for the October 28 opening, Esquibel tells Nightlife that Sundown in Southern Illinois grew out of her own deep personal commitment to equality and social justice.
"I've always been passionate about finding and addressing social-justice issues in the community," she says. "These are stories that are begging to be told. I found that people were pretty open and willing to talk with me about it. Overall, more people said yes than said no when I asked them to talk."
Although segregation ended on paper in the United States Supreme Court in 1954, the enforcement of sundown laws continued for many years. According to Esquibel, in some places, even today, minorities are made to feel unwelcome.
"What I found most poignant about doing this, and what I found interesting, is how that part of history continues to impact us in the present day," Esquibel says. "There are no more sundown signs, but there are still many towns around here that are alarmingly all-white, or mostly white. I talked to one person who said their town did not have their first African American high-school graduate until after 2000."
Sundown in Southern Illinois features both white and African American performers, and Esquibel, who refers to the performance as a "tool for social change," says that the rehearsal process has been both emotional and cathartic for most of the cast and crew, including herself.
"It's been really intense," Esquibel says. "We've been working on this for almost a month, and everyone in the cast has had their own breakdown in their own way. We have a young African American woman in the cast who had heard these stories from her grandmother. But for her to put herself in her grandmother's skin, to wear the stories for herself, has been very emotional."
Following in the footsteps of other socially charged local stage performances like The Laramie Project, Sundown in Southern Illinois, according to its creator-director, is not so much a play as it is a performance piece calling for social awareness and change.
"The script consists of narratives that I took from interviews," Esquibel says. "I transcribed them verbatim, as much as I could. I threaded the narratives together so that I could create composite characters to tell the story."
When asked what she hopes audiences will take away from the performance when they leave the Kleinau, Esquibel says that she hopes that the show, while not the final cure for the problem, will provide a place to begin.
"I'm hoping that it will create a dialogue," Esquibel says. "There is going to be a time of discussion, a dialogue, after each performance between the audience, the cast, and myself, which I will facilitate. These performances are about creating a dialogue between people regarding critical social issues like race and racism, and how they affect us today in Southern Illinois. That's what we're hoping for."
General admission tickets are $7, or $5 for students with valid identification. For tickets and other information, call the Kleinau box office at (618) 453-5618 or visit <http://SpeechCommunication.siu.edu> and follow the link to the Kleinau Theatre.
who: Elena Esquibel
what: Sundown in Southern Illinois (live theater / performance art)
where: Communications Building Marion Kleinau Theatre
when: Thursday through Saturday, October 28 through October 30