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Utah News

'North Star' Play Full Of Firsts For BYU Theatre Department

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Ty Davis, Marketing Department in the College of Fine Arts and Communications at BYU.
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Brigham Young University’ theater department is producing a play full of firsts. In fact, for the first time you can watch it in your own home.

“North Star” is a play that follows a character named Relia, who is an adult reflecting on her childhood participation in the Civil Rights Movement. The theatre department at Brigham Young University is putting on the play this weekend and theatre professor Julia Ashworth is excited.

“This is such an amazing opportunity to educate people about the civil rights movement,” Ashworth said. “This story is engaging, it's moving. It's entertaining. It's all those good things you want in a play, but it is educational.”

 

Playwright Gloria Bond Clunie wrote this play in 1995, but Ashworth said this play is still timely because of the racial reckoning the U.S. experienced last summer. 

“There's a relevancy to the 26 year old play that Gloria feels is different than the relevancy when she wrote the play. So the play has always been relevant, I guess it's just kind of a different lens to look through,” Ashworth said . “What’s been so eye opening just to see how many of us didn't know how many children participated in the marches and the incidents in the 60s at the time. But also, the level of detail of historical detail that Gloria weaves into this story is one of the pieces that makes it so educational.”

 

“North Star” is the first production with a primarily Black cast to come out of the BYU theater department. 

 

“Several of our actors who've never acted before, but they were really interested in participating North in this project. Some of them are in the performing arts majors, some of them are not,” Ashworth said.

 

There has also been involvement from the community outside of BYU, including members of the Latter-day Saint musical group the Bonner Family.

 

“Harry and Deborah Bonner are actors in our play too, so they are playing two characters in the play, as well as have they recorded some music for the reading,” Ashworth said.

 

The songs the Bonners have recorded are a mix of both historical music and original songs written just for the play. Beyond the new music, “North Star” has brought other firsts to the BYU theater program. It’s the first play to be completely free. And, streaming the production invites a larger audience than ever before. 

 

The technology has also allowed Clunie to be very involved in the production of her play. She remotely directed the reading from her residence in Chicago.

 

“She's been so generous of her time and her skills and her talents. I just can't speak highly enough of her,” Ashworth said of the playwright. “All the actors involved with the play feel the same way. They just feel so grateful for everything that she has done.”

 

Another benefit to streaming the play is it’s more accessible to kids. 

 

“Children will be watching it with their family members because everyone's home watching it, so any complex or confusing idea could be explained to the children. And it really is a play that was written with young audiences in mind in particular,” Ashworth said.

 

Ashworth summarized some of the goals the theater department had in producing “North Star.”

“I hope that people walk away feeling enlightened, they feel like they are seeing things differently, that they have new information, that they feel more compassionate towards their fellow human beings,” Ashworth said. “We feel like it's such an opportunity and such a timely opportunity for people to have a meaningful and educational and maybe even a healing experience.”