‘And Then There Were None’ to run only one night of five scheduled performances

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April 13, 2018

UPDATED 4/13 at 4:40 p.m.

The Undergraduate Theater Collective’s (UTC) production of “And Then There Were None” will have one performance on Saturday night, April 14, rather than the scheduled five performances of the show beginning April 12, due to concerns surrounding the show’s racist history.

The Saturday show will remain unchanged from what the production staff planned with the exception of a content warning additionally detailing the history of the show before audience members enter the theater and an apology from a UTC E-board member at the conclusion of the performance for selecting the show.

Approximately three hours before “And Then There Were None” was set to perform an opening night show on Thursday, the cast received an email saying that the evening’s performance was going to be replaced with a forum for the student body, faculty and staff to have a discussion about the impact on students.

The decision to cancel the performances followed concerns that professors from the Afro- and African American Studies (AAAS) department brought to select members of the UTC’s E-board and Emily Arkin ’20, the show’s producer, in an email on Thursday morning. The email detailed the AAAS department’s disappointment in the UTC for choosing and continuing to produce the show without considering the impact on black and Native American students.

Students, including members of the cast and crew, attended the forum in Sherman Function Hall where Chief Diversity Officer Mark Brimhall-Vargas moderated a discussion about the play’s intentions and how it might impact the community.

The general student body received a notice in the weekly What’s Happening email from Dean Stephanie Grimes at 6:35 p.m., and the UTC posted a notice on their Facebook page around 7 p.m.

Brimhall-Vargas conducted an informal poll of students in attendance at the beginning and at the end of the meeting, asking whether they felt the play should run the remainder of its scheduled performances. During both votes, the majority was in favor of running the show as scheduled, though approximately five more people voted in favor of not moving forward in the second vote. Students recognized that those present at the forum may not understand how all students might be affected by the performance given that the majority in attendance were white.

The production team and cast of “And Then There Were None” spoke about their efforts to bring the discriminatory history of the show to light, including many discussions of the history of the show in regard to its insensitivity towards multiple marginalized groups in the rehearsal process.

For the production, Merrick Mendenhall ’20, the director of the show, wrote a three-page director’s note addressing the play’s history and the steps she, the production staff and cast had taken to address the history in their presentation of the show. Various administrators and faculty members had reviewed and made suggestions to the director’s note, which Mendenhall was to read at the beginning of each performance, she said in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot.

“The goal of this show from day one has been transparency and has been raising awareness about the texts and its history. If we do not put on the show, we lose a lot of that outreach that we would have. If the show continues to go on, the performance would be discussing the history and the steps that we have taken to discuss the history and unpack it on the stage,” Mendenhall said at the forum.

Each member of the cast had prepared a statement describing how their characters were problematic and how these types of racist or sexist characters are still present today. The statements would be read at the end of the performance.

While most UTC productions begin with a read-through in the first rehearsal, the first rehearsal of “And Then There Were None,” held in January, began with a discussion of the difficulties of the show’s history led by Arkin. The cast continued to discuss their characters’ motivations and the show’s history throughout the rehearsal process.

“I’m wondering why today was the day they decided to bring this up, why today was the day that everybody realized that this shouldn’t happen,” said Noa Laden ’20, who portrays Dr. Armstrong in the production. “We made an effort to contact people for guidance for this show, knowing it would be potentially upsetting, many of whom did not respond to our outcry. It feels to me and many of my cast members really hurtful and upsetting.”

Agatha Christie’s novel “And Then There Were None” was originally titled “Ten Little N——s,” based on a British blackface rhyme of the same name. The play, released in 1946, was stylized as “Ten Little Indians,” and then released as “Ten Little Soldiers” and “And Then There Were None,” which is the final line of the nursery rhyme.

The email was sent from Professor Carina Ray (AAS) and signed by six other professors from the AAAS department: Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman, Chad Williams, Salah Hassan, Wangui Muigai, Wellington Nyangoni and Faith Smith. It expressed that “the UTC has decided to privilege the time and energy that the cast and crew has spent preparing this show over the well-being and dignity of Black and Native American Students.” The email recognized that the students have a right to put on the play, but urged the students to ponder whether continuing the performance would be “right and just.” The email also referenced the racially fraught time on the Brandeis campus as an additional consideration, a reference to the firing of head basketball coach Brian Meehan for racist comments towards players.

None of the email’s signatories attended the forum Thursday evening.

On March 20, Arkin and Mendenhall had a meeting with Brimhall-Vargas and Ray to discuss the show, according to students and Brimhall-Vargas. The group discussed several options, including the idea of introducing conversation into the play—pausing after a scene to unpack what happened. Mendenhall said there were some concerns regarding copyright because they are not allowed to alter the script much. This was, in part, why they decided to include statements at the beginning and end of the performance.

This is a developing story. Check back here for updates throughout the day.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled the director, Merrick Mendenhall’s name. This article previously stated the cast members received an email saying the opening show was postponed 1.5 hours before the performance. It was received 1.5 hours before call time and three hours before the show.

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