GVSU to host special presentation of theater production 'Anne and Emmett'

The outside of the Charles W. Loosemore Auditorium
The presentation will be held in the Loosemore Auditorium in DeVos Center.

Grand Valley is hosting a special presentation of a play that imagines a conversation between Anne Frank and Emmett Till, two young people who died as victims of hatred and whose lives are now widely remembered.

"Anne and Emmett," written by Janet Langhart Cohen, is being presented by Ebony Road Players, a theater group based in Grand Rapids that works to bring to the community productions that focus on the Black experience.

The presentation is at 7 p.m. March 24 at the Loosemore Auditorium in DeVos Center on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus. It is free and open to the public, said Rob Franciosi, the GVSU professor of English who is organizing the event. The evening also will include a talk-back session and refreshments.

Franciosi said he became familiar with the Ebony Road Players production in 2021 when it was in a streaming format, and thought it would be beneficial to his students in a Frederik Meijer Honors College course about Frank.

"The power of the play, however, is such that I thought it was important to open the performance up to the wider GVSU community as well as the public," Franciosi said.

He said while watching the play, he was struck by the youth of both Frank and Till. He also noted how easy it can be for people to forget that they were children when they died.

“Yet for all the distance between the worlds of Anne and Emmett and our own, the continuing stains of racism and anti-Semitism which destroyed them add a measure of urgency to setting their stories side by side," Franciosi said. “Aligning the crimes of Nazi Germany to those of the Jim Crow South can, in fact, deepen our understanding of the larger forces which engulfed both Anne Frank and Emmett Till.”

Edye Evans Hyde, executive director of Ebony Road Players, said theater company officials decided to produce the play to highlight the lessons from the stories of Frank and Till.

"We chose 'Anne and Emmett' for the relevant stories of two teenagers who experienced similar atrocities at different times in the world," Hyde said. "We hope that the stories help remind us of the horrors they lived through so we don't make the same mistakes with our children."

The production is sponsored by GVSU's Frederik Meijer Honors College, Joseph Stevens Freedom Endowment, Department of English and Division of Inclusion and Equity.

Ebony Road Players cast members reflect on their roles

"I hope that through this piece I can inspire people to remember not only Emmett's story, but also the unsung stories of all of the Black people and families that have been affected by hate crimes, lynchings, and the atrocities of white supremacy in our society. Memory is the first step in change, and if we never remember the stories of those we have lost, history will only repeat itself."

– Gabryel Shepard, playing Emmett Till

"I really feel as though this piece is important because of the way it connects two people who would have otherwise never talked, or even known each other. It's interesting to see the different perspectives and things that Anne and Emmett went through, and watch them connect through their struggles, but also spread awareness about things that society still struggles with today."

– Ruby Duimstra, playing Anne Frank

"Playing Mamie Till was one of the hardest things I've ever done and yet, one of the most rewarding. Her courage, strength and sacrifice while dealing with the most unimaginable tragedy is truly inspiring."

     – Quianna Babb, playing Mamie Till, mother of Emmett Till

"I never know what it is to live through a genocidal purge, or to be enslaved – to be diminished and dehumanized. I bear witness to the atrocities of humankind in the hope that no one will ever know them again. Once we know our fellow man's crimes, it is our right and responsibility, and our duty to tell others, that they may remember our dead for all time."

– Scott Baisden, playing Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank