Blackademics shines light on Black women’s experiences in academia
Guest director Jerrell Henderson describes Beloit College’s production of Blackademics as “an intimate story about the experiences of Black women on a college campus.” He hopes students, faculty, staff, and community members alike will connect with the show’s universal messages.
Beloit College Theatre Department’s upcoming production of Idris Goodwin’s play Blackademics tells the story of two Black woman academics sitting down in a restaurant that may be more — or less — than it seems.
A director, puppeteer, and theatre historian, Jerrell Henderson seeks to disrupt generational bigotry and elevate Black voices in the theater. He has directed and performed in dozens of productions and puppet productions in a wide variety of genres throughout his career.
Henderson is confident that the play will speak to a wide variety of people, especially on Beloit’s campus. “There are issues in the play that some of the students are dealing with that they’ve never been able to speak about,” Henderson says. “So if that’s the scenario for the four or five people in our rehearsal room, it might also be representative of a larger group of people. I look forward to the story getting out there so that it can affect who it affects the way that it needs to affect them.”
To Henderson, this relatability is proof of the power of theatre — and this production in particular.
“It’s a really, really well constructed piece of theatre,” he says. “It’s about Black people in the academic world, but it doesn’t take place in an academic setting, which allows space for conversations about that setting. They’re not in it, but they’re not far away from it. In some ways, they’re always in it.”
Often, as Henderson makes clear, a specific, focused story can have more impact than a broad, complex one. “It’s not a large musical ragtime that’s epic in scope and carries over years and raises epic questions about America and everything we’ve been thinking about. It’s an intimate story about the experiences of Black women on a college campus.”
Henderson is grateful for the chance to create “a creative atmosphere that allows these gifted student performers the opportunity for risk and play, an essential step in any creative process for artists in a theatrical world.”
Autumn Green’24, who plays Rachelle, is excited about the production. As a biracial actress, she is eager for the opportunity to “fuse [her] Black culture with [her] performance work” and feels “empowered portraying a character who also struggles with being accepted as Black.”
“It is an intersectional story,” she says, “which touches heavily upon the relationships between Black women, which is something infrequently presented positively in the media.”