Mississippi State University's own Theatre MSU is performing "Anne and Emmett," a hypothetical conversation between historic figures Anne Frank and Emmett Till that vocalizes racial injustice and promotes healing in the world. The play will be performed at 7:30 p.m. from Nov.10 through Nov. 13 at the McComas Hall theater.
Attendees will be required to wear masks and seats will be socially-distanced. Wednesday's performance will also be live-streamed for viewers to watch remotely, and it will include a conversation with the playwright, Janet Langhart Cohen.
The cast and crew virtually met with the playwright when rehearsals of "Anne and Emmett" first began. Tonya Hays, assistant professor at MSU and director of the play, said she is thankful they could meet the playwright to hear Cohen's inspiration for writing the play. Hays explained this enhanced the cast and crew's storytelling.
Starkville Community Theatre partnered with Theatre MSU to produce the play, and members of the community theater will represent the play's two adult roles. MSU students will portray the title characters.
Allyn Hackman, a senior communication major with a concentration in theatre, is portraying Anne Frank. She explained due to the understudies' compelling portrayal of their characters at one of the first rehearsals, Director Tonya Hays decided the understudies should have a separate performance of "Anne and Emmett" on Thursday night.
"Anne and Emmett" is set in a fictional place where the two title characters meet and share the cruelty both people experienced in their short lives. Viewers will watch the two characters unfold their tragic stories to one another in the one-act play.
Cameron Mayers, a freshman political science and communication major, will portray Emmett Till in the play. This is his first lead role at Theatre MSU. He said he realizes his representation of Emmett is the most important role he will ever play.
"This is still happening now, even though this event happened 60 years ago. We're still dealing with the implications that it's having to this day. I think, now more than ever, this is a story that needs to be told because, at the end of the day, it's our generation that's going to stop this," Mayers said.
Tonya Hays said "Anne and Emmett" is one of the better options for socially-distanced plays during COVID-19 because the four performers can be spread out on stage to maintain social distancing measures.
Hackman praised the small team and said she has become close with each person on the cast and crew.
"When there's a small cast, there's an intimacy to it that you just can't get with a big cast, unless you've been with each other for years," Hackman said. "I've gotten to know Cameron, Metri, Tori, Tonya and Thomas so much better, and we're portraying our feelings with everything (happening) right now. And it's such a huge deal during the Black Lives Matter movement."
Donovan Andrade, a senior communication and kinesiology major from Manama, Bahrain, is the stage manager for "Anne and Emmett." He said attendees can expect an educational and emotional show.
"This is really kind of like an educational performance, as well as I will say, there are probably some heart provoking moments. But really— if you feel something, it makes you human," Andrade said.
Anne Frank and Emmett Till both died at the hands of racial injustice, and Hays said this is an important time to perform the play because of the Black Lives Matter movement and the rise of anti-Semitism across the country this year.
Hays continued to say the play has a special meaning, and she voiced her hope it is one the audience will resonate with.
"There's a Hebrew saying, 'Tikkun Olam,' and it means repair the world. And I think that's the message of the play, so I hope people will come and think about what they can actually do," Hays said.
Due to a COVID-19 outbreak among Theatre MSU members, the organization postponed "Anne and Emmett" by two weeks. Cast and crew expressed their eager excitement to showcase the play and to see the audience's reactions after months of rehearsals.
Tickets for "Anne and Emmett" are available on events.msstate.edu. They are pay-what-you-can, meaning free tickets are available, but donations are accepted.