JSU’s student-directed play tackles racism, family dynamics in Apartheid-era South Africa
by Brett Buckner
Apr 13, 2012 | 5123 views |  0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Erin Mahaffey and Merideth Huntley performing in The Syringa Tree. Photo: Submitted photo
Erin Mahaffey and Merideth Huntley performing in The Syringa Tree. Photo: Submitted photo
When it’s something she’s passionate about, Alexandra Hooper tends to, as she puts it, “dive right in.”

This is certainly an apt description of the 22-year-old Jacksonville State University senior’s approach to directing the Apartheid-era drama “The Syringa Tree,” which runs through Sunday at the Ernest Stone Performing Arts Center.

The story of “The Syringa Tree” opens in Johannesburg, South Africa, and tells of the enduring love between two families: one black, one white, — servant and master — and the two children born into their shared household in the early 1960s and how their lives and relationships become defined through the horrors of Apartheid.

“It’s just a beautiful story with a thousand different morals,” Hooper explained. “No one will watch this show and not find something to relate to, but my focus is that a family can be made up of anyone. A family is about more than blood.”

The journey that eventually brought “The Syringa Tree” to the stage began when Hooper was a high school freshman living in downtown Atlanta. Her arts teacher allowed Hooper to come on a senior field trip to the nearby Horizon Theatre, where the one-woman version of “The Syringa Tree” was being performed.

“I loved it and never forgot it,” said Hooper, who is directing a traditional version of the show with 12 cast members portraying 24 roles. “It was an amazing show that stuck with me.”

Last April, when the faculty of JSU’s drama department gathered to decide on productions for the 2012 season, Hooper submitted a proposal to perform “The Syringa Tree,” with her as director. To graduate, which Hooper will do in two weeks, JSU drama students must first complete a senior practicum — or project. For Hooper, “The Syringa Tree” is her senior practicum.

And while she may be directing her friends and peers — including her roommate — Hooper says that no egos have gotten in the way of the production.

“It’s honestly been fantastic,” she said. “This is a small department, so we all know each other and we’re all professionals. It’s not been hard to establish the difference between work versus play.”

But Hooper had to learn her own style of directing. Generally, there are four professors within the department who direct plays and each has their own approach — not so with Hooper, who was an unknown commodity, even among her classmates.

“Before, we pretty much knew what to expect if it was a (Susan) McCain show or an (Eric) Traynor show, but nobody really knew what to expect with me … and neither did I,” she said. “But it was nice because there weren’t any preconceived notions and now we’re all along for the ride.”

And what an emotional ride it will be. “The Syringa Tree” is a powerful play that deals with racism, loss, isolation, as well as love, friendship and the ties that bind humanity. Despite the challenging nature of the play, Hooper has no worries about how audiences will receive it.

“I have no reservations,” she said. “Theater is an art form. We are here to express our opinions and to show the reality of situations in a way that people can easily understand. This is a history lesson … and if you can’t handle that kind of truth, then you have the freedom to walk out.

“But what I hope is that, through this show, people will learn to embrace one another regardless of where they come from.”

Contact Brett Buckner at brettbuckner@ymail.com.

“The Syringa Tree”

Today-Saturday, 7 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.

Where: Ernest Stone Performing Arts Center, corner of 11th Street and Church Avenue, Jacksonville State University campus

How much: $10 for adults, $8 for senior citizens and JSU personnel, $5 for students, children and military.

For more information, call the JSU drama box office at 256-782-5648
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