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Dael Orlandersmith’s Ferguson-informed play ‘Until the Flood’ to have world premiere at the Rep

Playwright Dael Orlandersmith
Kevin Berne
Playwright Dael Orlandersmith

Actress, poet and playwright Dael Orlandersmith is known for her moving works like “Beauty’s Daughter,” “Monster,” and the Pulitzer Prize finalist “Yellowman.”  The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis recently commissioned a work from Orlandersmith about Ferguson and St. Louis after the police shooting death of Michael Brown Jr. in 2014. It is called “Until the Flood.

Next week, the play will have its world premiere at the Rep. St. Louis on the Air contributor Steve Potter sat down with Orlandersmith to hear about her experience crafting the play, in which she interviewed 15-20 St. Louisans for background to craft eight different characters.

“The thing about the piece: it is not about who is right or who is wrong,” Orlandersmith said. “That’s not what I am interested in. I just want to look at how this shooting affected people across the board. The characters are composite figures, it is not verbatim. It is still about theater from me.”

Orlandersmith portrays all eight composite characters in the play, which premieres Friday, Oct. 14 and runs through Nov. 6 at the Repertory Theatre.

She said that the name of the play, “Until the Flood,” comes from both a Biblical perspective and a viewpoint of purity.

“What does cleanliness mean? What does purity mean?” Orlandersmith said. “That’s why I chose that title: the pureness of character. When you watch children play, children are not aware of race. They are not thinking ‘my black friend,’ ‘my white friend,’ ‘my Asian friend’… they’re just friends. When I talk about water being purity, as washing something clean, that is what I mean in that sense. There are a lot of water references. As Joni Mitchell says, ‘I’m a water freak.’”

Orlandersmith grew up in Harlem and the South Bronx. She said that she drew connections between her childhood there in the ‘60s and what is happening today across the country.

“I remember cops pulling people over and the drugs: heroin, then angel dust and crack cocaine,” Orlandersmith said. “But I don’t want to narrow it. There were people within that area doing good things. Within my immediate household, there was R&B and stuff but there was Ravel’s Boléro and Dickens. There were guys on the street — but they were also talking about Jimi Hendrix and Beethoven.”

Her upbringing drew her to write the play about Ferguson, but also her interest in understanding “people as people.”

What interested me as a theater person, beginning, middle, story, conflict, resolution was : how does this shooting affect people?

“It is easy to make it black and white,” Orlandersmith said. “I want this to go beyond race. I want to go about what is human, inhuman and humane. Race becomes so narrow. I want to look at people’s lives. This is a story. Not the story. I don’t want to speak for, I want to speak to. That’s my job as a theater person. Theater is supposed to be an exciting and dangerous place. There are theater pieces there for entertainment, there are pieces to provoke thought. If I have added to that collective, I have done my job.”

Related Event

What: Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Presents "Until the Flood" by Dael Orlandersmith
When: Oct. 14 – Nov. 6 at various times
Where: Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves, MO 63119
More information.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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