by Pamela Gien
This moving and powerful story of an enduring love between two families—one black, one white—is told through the eyes of a six-year-old girl. Winner of the 2001 Obie Award for Best Play, The Syringa Tree chronicles two families straining against the chains of apartheid. Will love conquer fear? Two versatile actresses bring twenty-four characters to life, transporting us to South Africa from 1963 through the present. Join us for this moving tale beautifully brought to life by CRT.
Asst. Stage Manager
Bethany Eilean Talley
Salamina and others
The Syringa Tree is presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc., New York.
First produced at A Contemporary Theatre, Seattle, Gordon Edelstein, Artistic Director.
Original New York stage production presented by Matt Salinger.
Use of the music and lyrics of “Ballad of the Southern Suburbs” a.k.a. “Ag Pleez Deddy” (Copyright © 1962, Jeremy Taylor) courtesy of Jeremy Taylor and Gallo (Africa) Ltd.
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
Think back to January 27th, 2017.
Newly elected President Donald Trump has just signed an executive order that “indefinitely suspends the admissions for Syrian refugees and limits the flow of other refugees into the United States.”
In the fight against “radical Islamic terrorism,” this executive order became known as a “muslim ban,” disallowing immigrants and “questionable Americans” from entering the United States. It was a blanket ban against refugees and any national from seven muslim-majority countries.
And as you probably recall, it was met with very mixed reactions.
To some, it proved a necessary precaution in assuring the safety of American citizens. To others, it was an unsettling realization of one’s insecurity within this nation. What once felt safe, ceased to. After all, it tore some families apart, an ocean’s-worth of distance between them. And it sparked mass protests across the nation.
Offhandedly, President Trump himself commented, “We don’t want them here” as he signed the bills, which is not a new thing to hear for some of us.
It makes me think of this admonishment from South African President P.W. Botha in 1964, “If the principle of permanent residence for the Black man in the area of the White is accepted, then it is the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it in this country.” Whoa.
The freedom to exist—to live, to love and to be—in America is what is being dishonored with Trump’s words.
One of the most crucial societal liberties is the freedom to choose where you want to live; an ability to migrate and habitate and call your country home. To weave your thread of experience into the tapestry of American life. And in an age where that freedom to exist is being threatened more and more—and by countries we once thought of as sanctuaries—it has become of utmost importance to preach the message of inclusion through stories that shed light on our mistakes.
There are many ways in which The Syringa Tree mirrors our nation, but the most pressing way, to me, has been in the reflection of our cultural landscapes; the lurking undercurrent of exclusion and white superiority in America; the examination of what type of person gets to exist in public spaces; and the battle over where one is allowed to live.
It’s an honor to get to bring such a diverse show to Creede Rep. A story set in South Africa during Apartheid that discusses race, distance, colorism, boundaries, access and migration is a unique opportunity for Creede audiences.
But this play is more than an immersion experience about how privilege and trauma affect our young. It’s about how two young women bond and survive through that gauntlet of obstacles. Seeing these resilient women age over decades and maintain their deep connection, even across seas, to me, that sounded like a powerful human story. Their everlasting love that goes deeper than blood. That miraculous love that crosses seas and reunites families.
Apartheid, which means “Separateness” in the Afrikaans language, was a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination in South Africa between 1948 and 1991. The roots of apartheid in South Africa stretch back almost as far as the beginning of European colonization.
A TIMELINE OF APARTHEID IN SOUTH AFRICA
1949 – The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act and the Immorality Act prohibit interracial marriage and sexual relations.
1950 – Population Registration Act classifies all South Africans into one of four racial groups based on appearance, ancestry, socioeconomic status, and cultural lifestyle: “black,” “white,” “coloured” (mixed descent), and “Indian.”
1951 – Bantu Authorities Act assigns each African to an independent state based on the person’s record of origin called a homeland. They are no longer able to vote and lose their citizenship in South Africa.
1951 – Non-whites are required to carry identity papers with them at all times. Those employed in “white areas” have to register and carry a pass giving them permission to remain in those areas overnight.
1952 – The African National Congress joins other anti-apartheid organizations in a Defiance Campaign, wherein participants use passive resistance to violate oppressive laws.
1952 – Nelson Mandela opens South Africa’s first black law firm, which offers free or low-cost legal counsel to those affected by apartheid legislation.
1953 – The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act prohibits people of different races from using the same drinking fountains, restrooms, buses, schools, hospitals, and beaches.
1953 – The Bantu Education Act segregates the races in all levels of education, makes it illegal for black workers to strike.
1953 – The Public Safety Act allows the government to inflict severe penalties, imprisonment, and beatings to those who protest against the law.
1956 – Mandela and 155 other members of the multi-racial Congress Alliance are arrested and charged with treason. All are acquitted after a lengthy trial. The prolonged periods in detention strengthen and solidify their relationship.
1960 – The Sharpeville Massacre. A large group of black protestors refuse to carry their mandatory passes. The government declares a state of emergency lasting for 156 days. In the end 69 people die and 187 are wounded.
1963 – Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisilu, and seven other leaders of the African National Congress are tried for acts of sabotage. Eight are convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment at Robben Island.
1976 – The government decrees that all schools must teach in the white language, Afrikaans. Police fire at unarmed black protesters in the city of Soweto, which leads to riots and more fatalities.
1983 – The United Democratic Front is formed to fight against apartheid.
1990 – Nelson Mandela is finally released after 27 years in prison.
1992 – After months of negotiating and violence, a draft constitution is published, guaranteeing freedom of speech and religion, access to adequate housing and social benefits and outlawing all discrimination.
1994 – The first truly democratic election is held. The ANC wins 62.7% of the popular vote and Nelson Mandela becomes the first non-white leader of South Africa.