RED SUMMER takes place during the Chicago race riots of 1919. Two WWI soldiers -- one black, one white – return from the battlefields of Europe only to find themselves caught in the violence of a Chicago that is struggling to accommodate the Great Migration, the return of WWI veterans, a downturn in the economy, and long-standing ethnic tensions. Having fought on the same side in The Great War, they are now pitted against each other as their friends, family, and neighbors wage block-by-block warfare and the city’s ethnic enclaves rage and burn. Historic figures Mayor “Big Bill” Thompson and Ida B. Wells loom in the background of this historic pivot point. One hundred years later, the same issues still simmer and smolder in every metropolitan area in the country.
Svetlana Rogachevskya, Director of the Center for Performing Arts at Governors State University, recently had the pleasure of talking to playwrights Reginald Lawrence (who practices his craft under the name Shepsu Aakhu) and Andy White. Reggie Lawrence and Andy White have been friends and colleagues in Chicago theater for more than thirty and had long looked for an opportunity to work together but had not found the right project. Finally in 2017, they began co-writing RED SUMMER in response to our country’s continued racial divisions that chronically simmer and, too often ignored, eventually boil over. As an African-American playwright, Reggie was a prolific writer who had written many plays chronicling a black perspective of growing up in Chicago; as a white and Jewish playwright, Andy had put race relations at the heart of his writing as well. This project appealed to both of them for the same reasons – an opportunity to finally work together creatively, and to address an issue about which they both cared deeply.
RED SUMMER is supported in part by the National Endowment of the Arts. Support for the development of Red Summer was provided, in part, by Chicago Performance Lab through Theater and Performance Studies in the Logan Center at the University of Chicago and Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre in Evanston, IL.