Arts Department Presents: Until the Flood

Arts+Department+Presents%3A+Until+the+Flood

Jessica Choe, Editor

The play Until the Flood, written by Pulitzer Prize finalist Dael Orlandersmith, attracted a large audience despite being the first hybrid play that the Academy has ever produced with both the actors and the audience a mixture of in-person and online. Centered around the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown, Until the Flood addressed the timely issues raised by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and @blackatgovs Instagram account. The play explores nine different individuals impacted by his death, with each character relating their story to the audience in a monologue. The two shows attracted a socially distanced capacity crowd of 50 in the Wilkie Center, and close to 400 live streams of the event.

Dr. Monica Palmer P’21, the director of the play and Dean of Faculty, felt the need to respond to the deeply ingrained racism with the rising BLM movement. “I wasn’t taught our real history in school,” Dr. Palmer said. “I could not direct this play without raising awareness of social justice.” Such conviction led her to choose Until the Flood, which, with the gravity of its subject, differed from her typically humorous, or witty fall productions. After hearing the news of George Floyd’s death, however, “I knew I had to direct this play,” Dr. Palmer told The Governor

When asked about the biggest challenge, Dr. Palmer replied, “Educating the cast and providing the historical context. There is going to have to be a lot of education around what is the Black Lives Matter movement, why did it come to be, how this transpired over years of injustices that have affected brown and black people.”

Dr. Palmer told The Governor that the rehearsals have become “a combination of history class” in her attempt to teach the actors the history of the BLM movement and beyond. The actors were able to examine  “these perspectives looking at Michael Brown who died in 2014 and all the countless black and brown people who have died before Michael Brown and after Michael Brown, wanting to tell their stories, and wanting to depict this story at this time.”  

Ericson Kuo ‘22, actor, also highlighted that the struggles to achieve social justice dates back before the recent movements surrounding the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor: “I think it’s very easy to see why the BLM movement is important in today’s time…but it is also important to remember that police brutality itself has been going on forever. I’m grateful to have this opportunity to learn about the history surrounding the movement.”

Selina Liu ‘22, actress, wrote that her most memorable experience was how “the cast would read a list of names of Black and brown people who died from police brutality.” She continued, “It gives me a sense of purpose, reminds me that there’s gravity in the work we’re doing. It makes me drop every bit of selfishness, whether it is a bad grade, not having enough sleep, or any petty issues that prevent me from paying full attention to rehearsal. When I’m in this play I’m not only an actor but also an activist, and that means I have a mission to accomplish.” 

The actors resonated that the theater speaks to the audience in a different way than the news media does. Selina emphasized the power of theater, “We get to see the honest, vulnerable side of humanity, and that’s the beauty of theatre. In social justice, we see a lot of outrage, violence, the ‘fist-to-fist’ kind of activism, but behind the scenes there’s pain in each individual’s stories that nobody sees and nobody talks about.” 

Lily Zhao ‘21, actress, agrees. She wrote, “I like how the play creates morally gray characters. No one is a hundred percent good, and even the so-called ‘bad’ people, you can empathize with to some extent.”

Selina wishes that the play made a tangible impact on the community. “I’m hoping that the play can start a real conversation about social justice and activism,” she added. 

Here is the digital program with the director’s notes and the trailer from Until the Flood.