Gaslighting Speaker Series: Ifa Bayeza

Bayeza discusses her trilogy, The Ballad of Emmett Till, currently being performed at the Round House Theatre.

Bennett Galper, News Director

On November 2, award winning playwright, director, novelist, and educator Ifa Bayeza visited B-CC to kick off the gaslighting speaker series. Students, teachers, administrators, and faculty members packed the seats of the auditorium to hear Bayeza speak about The Till Trilogy, a series of plays, and her career.
Bayeza began her speech by reenacting a scene from the first part of the trilogy: The Ballad of Emmett Till. This part of the trilogy presented Emmett Till’s journey from Chicago, Illinois to Money, Mississippi, where he crossed paths with Caroline Bryant, who led to Till’s murder after she wrongly accused him of sexual harrassment.
“If Till’s death awakened a nation, the recounting of the story serves to remind us of the struggle [with racism] that so clearly continues,” expressed Bayeza.
The scene that Bayeza reenacted featured Till, who also went by “Beau,” beginning his day in an upbeat, energetic manner. “New suit, travel shoes, the rumple of the ale, the sound of the city awakening,” cried Bayeza. “Call me the Beau—Beau, Beua, Beau.”
Bayeza also described her research process to the crowd: “I focused on Till himself.” She detailed how she traveled to Chicago and visited Till’s home, his grandmother’s house, his church, and even the school he attended—which is now named after him. During her research, Bayeza asked herself: “who is this young man who I miss so dearly?”
Unlike other renditions of Till’s story, Bayeza shied away from focusing on Till’s death, and dove deep into who he was as an individual. She points out that “his death image never appears” in her work.
When asked about why she chose a theater performance to capture Till’s story, Bayeza stated that “in theater you feel with the character, there is something about the liveness that impacts the brain.” She added that theater builds a sense of community because you are experiencing the show with other people. Unlike when watching a movie from the comfort of your local movie theater or living room couch, in a live theater “the character can come right up and talk to you.”
In the spirit of the B-CC speaker series’ theme, Bayeza explained how gaslighting played a role in Till’s story. “The gaslighting about the South, the gaslighting about the gentile and the noble South” was what she wanted to “directly confront” through The Till Trilogy.
Bayeza also detailed how she grappled with the emotional effect of Till’s story during her research and writing by grounding herself with her “incredibly supportive family” and “super supportive team.”