Byhalia WPC Cities


by Tyrone Phillips and Andrew Hobgood

A World Premiere Conversation is:

A simultaneous event connecting audiences attending the January 2016 world premieres of Byhalia, Mississippi at theatres in seven North American cities. A multi-city digital conversation on Monday, January 18 will connect creative teams and audiences from all participating cities.

January 8th: Four separate productions open on the same night in Chicago, Memphis, Toronto and Charleston, SC.

             Conversation     PlayhouseLogoHighRes  AltLogoHIRES Village-Logo-04 (1)
January 12th & 16th:

Three theatres hold staged readings of the play in Los Angeles, Boulder and Birmingham.
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The simultaneous part of WPConvo is already exciting the production teams in each city. Script changes made in Chicago rehearsals are immediately being implemented in rehearsal rooms the following evening. Stories are being shared, questions are being asked and relationships are forming between artists who are separated by thousands of miles. What excites the participants the most is the ability to encourage their audiences to share the experience of going to a new play with someone they know in another city. Live in Birmingham, but have family in Memphis? Invite them to go to the theater with you. We want our audiences to share the experience of going to see an important new play. WPConvo does this in a way that invites a discussion with a larger audience than just your fellow patrons in the lobby after the show. Click to Enlarge Map

Byhalia, Mississippi is written by The New Colony Co-Artistic Director Evan Linder and tells the story of Jim and Laurel Parker, a white Mississippi couple who are both shocked when they discover their new baby boy is black. The result of a brief affair the year before, the baby becomes the talk of the town while Jim and Laurel’s marriage crumbles. Evan recently described the genesis of his play:
I grew up in Collierville, TN off of Byhalia Rd, just 8 miles north of Byhalia. I knew these characters better than any I’ve ever written, but as I kept revisiting my notes for my Red State/marriage/forgiveness play, I was having trouble landing on why I wanted to write this story. I found my engine while cooped up during the Polar Vortex in January 2014 and wrote the majority of the play in those three days. George Zimmerman was back in the news and as I started revisiting articles about his acquittal that summer, I couldn’t get Jim Parker out of my head. What would it take (and was it even possible) for Jim to see a boy in a hoodie walking across the street in Byhalia and immediately register that young man as someone else’s child before seeing a young black male? And could he ever see that child as his own?Evan Linder

Photo taken by the playwright; a day trip to Byhalia, MS in January 2014.

I wonder whether, say, a dozen theatres, large and small, in different cities and towns, could agree on a single work of theatre (and I’d much prefer that it was a new work, not a classic revival), a play of social and political importance, that could be near-simultaneously produced across the country. Not a tour, not a handful of co-productions, but a whole bunch of theatres doing the same work within, say, an eight-week period.Howard Sherman

A reading of Byhalia, Mississippi in Chicago in October 2014 started a conversation between Definition and The New Colony that was rooted in a deep love for the five inhabitants of this play: Jim, Laurel, Karl, Ayesha and Celeste. They felt like family even to those of us who had not grown up in the South. A few months after we began chatting in Chicago, Playhouse on the Square in Memphis named Byhalia the winner of their NewWorks@TheWorks Playwriting competition and gave the play a scheduled world premiere for January 2016. After digging up a post from Howard Sherman’s blog from March 2013, we were inspired to attempt something bigger than what we originally conceived as a co-world premiere across two cities.
Though we didn’t reach that magic “dozen” that Howard originally dreamed of, we are thrilled to be launching World Premiere Conversation with the other risk-taking theatres that comprise our baker’s half-dozen. (Is that a thing?) [Editor’s note: Apparently a baker’s half dozen IS a thing. Good call.] We believe this play will get people talking. Our two companies began this conversation over fourteen months ago and we feel that we are only getting started. 

This blog is where the conversation starts. We will be updating it regularly with rehearsal photos, interviews, previews of the show, news articles that tell you more about the history of Byhalia, and a whole lot more! The Conversation will culminate in a live interactive talkback on January 18th. Audiences from all seven cities will contribute questions live to be answered in a live podcast featuring members of all seven creative teams.

And that conversation starts in…

There is still a lot to discover. Our hope is that does on a larger scale what we always want to do with every new play we produce: Get a conversation started. Get people excited. Connect with our audiences and connect them to each other. We can’t wait to show you everything we have cooked up for you here on the blog over the next 40 days. We think there is a great Conversation to be had.  

Thanks for joining us.

Tyrone Phillips and Andrew Hobgood

Tyrone Phillips is the Artistic Director of Definition Theatre Company.

Definition Theatre Company is a Chicago ensemble-based theatre founded by graduates of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Featuring a multi-ethnic core companionship of actors, Definition strives to artistically reflect the myriad of modern America to inspire and engage the communities it represents through contemporary and classical theatrical works. Our mission is to tell language-driven, relationship-oriented, thought-provoking socially relevant stories. tyrone

Andrew Hobgood is the Co-Artistic Director of The New Colony.

The New Colony strives to contribute original material to the American artistic canon, and develop a new theater going audience. Through active collaboration with emerging artists of all disciplines, The New Colony continually develops fresh perspectives and aesthetics. With the goal of exploring enticing subject matter and the common language of emotional experience, The New Colony will help cultivate the next generation of arts supporters. New Plays. New Musicals. New Audiences.Hobgood400

A Tour of the Town of Byhalia>>>

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Comments 1

  1. Kappy Hall

    We attended the staged reading by Square Product last night but were unable to stay for the talkback. Wanted to give you a huge thumbs-up; yes, produce this play! It is wonderful. The language is raw and totally appropriate (know that’s coming from a 70-year-old white grandma). Powerful and refreshing to hear Karl confront Jim’s white privilege in terms of his immediate experience, never needing to use that term, but also transcending his own internalized racism to take a stand with his old friend. Powerful themes , unfortunately as alive for this year as for any recent decade.

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