Arts and Culture

The latest production from the University of Louisville’s African American Theatre Program and Department of Theatre Arts is a look at the year 2269, when the concepts of race and ethnicity have been banned.

“Afromemory,” by Teshonne Powell, runs at the Playhouse Theatre through Sunday

Professor and chair of the Department of Theatre Arts Nefertiti Burton directed the show. She said the play was “written within the context of Afrofuturism,” in a society that “has erased the notion of race, the notion of difference, of culture and ancestry.”

“Sort of like we are all one, and we are looking to the future, and we are not at all, even allowed to discuss the past… and the protagonist is struggling with something that she doesn’t quite understand, but she knows is sort of a vacuum in her life,” Burton continued. 

That’s how the play begins. And as the story unfolds, the protagonist starts to uncover her identity, who she really is.

UofL mounts “Afromemory” as Republican politicians across the country continue to introduce and pass legislation targeting classroom discussions on race. 

But, as Burton explained, the playwright wrote the work years before some American conservatives began protesting anti-racist efforts and trainings in schools and the workplace, inaccurately claiming they are a part of an academic framework called critical race theory. 

Back in 2016, the playwright followed the general election, taking note of the rhetoric from Donald Trump, who was then the GOP presidential candidate. 

“And she was seeing some of the language that was being used, the negativity towards different racial and ethnic groups, towards immigrants and so forth,” Burton said. “And I think for her, that stimulated this thought about what the future might look like.” 

The future in “Afromemory” highlights, for Burton, the danger in ignoring people’s differences.

“When you eliminate or try to not see race, what you also don’t see is culture, history, family tradition and all of these things,” Burton said. 

While scientific research has shown that race is a social construct, that the differences are not based in biology, Burton said it’s still important to talk about the things that make people and populations distinct. She said if the topic is ignored or erased, it can hinder progress and people’s understanding of who they are and of each other. 

“It seems almost as if people think that the notion of difference has to be negative, or it’s only okay to be different in certain ways,” Burton said. “And what the play does is it allows us to see the beauty of difference.”

“Afromemory” is at the Playhouse Theatre Feb. 17 – 20. An advance reservation is required due to limited seating. Masks are also required, as is proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours of entry.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.