Akron Company featured in Cleveland Theatre Festival

Most theatres in the Akron-area shy away from controversial material, choosing to produce fare that won’t leave audiences demanding their ticket money back.  Heads Up Productions does just the opposite.  “Heads Up has consistently, since it’s founding, had a dark side and I think that helps shake people,” said Artistic Director TJ Jozsa.

Our production, 1,000 Hills, is no exception.  Written by Akron native India Burton, the play is an hour-long gauntlet of people trying to survive one of the most gruesome events in history– The Rwandan Genocide.  “The first time I heard of the Rwandan Genocide, I was a senior in high school.  I can remember thinking: why is this the first time I’ve ever heard about it?”

Between research, college courses, a part-time job, acting in and directing other productions, it took Burton over a year and a half to write Hills.  Time constraints aside, Burton said the most difficult thing about writing the play was trying to portray each of the different characters and making them human, not caricatures.

Burton, a founding member of Heads Up, wanted to give something to the company and decided to offer her show.  Our innovative company of 20-somethings likes the show because it pushes the envelope, challenges audiences and performers alike and meets our socially conscious mission.

Jozsa, reprising his role as Bronner

The play had a staged reading in October 2010, just 16 years after the events that sparked the show.  Though the 100-day genocide of an estimated 800,000 Tutsi people, an ethnic group in the small east African country, happened within the lifetime of everyone who watched the performance, many echoed Burton’s original sentiment.  As one reviewer wrote, “this story took me well beyond the understanding I’d gained in news releases at the time.”  Jozsa was quick to point out that, before seeing this play, many people couldn’t even remember the country’s name, confusing it with neighboring Uganda.

The October performance served as a workshop for Hills with Heads Up asking the audience for feedback about the play.  Burton took the criticism and rewrote the play.  “I understand these characters a lot more.  I was 22 when I started writing the play and I’m 24 now.  A lot of things are evolving; these characters have evolved.”

The initial production of Hills was such success, we felt the need to mount the retooled version of the script.  This time we wanted to reach a bigger audience, so we applied for Cleveland Public Theatre’s Big Box Series.

According to their website, CPT is “one of the nation’s leading experimental and political performance venues.”  With programs such as Big Box, the theatre continues to be an incubator for some of Northeast Ohio’s top artistic talent, including New World Performance Laboratory, GroundWorks DanceTheater and, this January, Heads Up Productions.

Big [Box] will mark Heads Up’s debut into the larger Cleveland theatre community and a current of excitement can be felt throughout our company.  Jozsa, who will reprise his role as Australian filmmaker Bronner, believes, “1,000 Hills deserves to be at Big Box, not just for the writing but for the performance.  It really is beautiful to watch.  Even under these horrific circumstances.”

The cast of 1,000 Hills

The performance features 9 actors who play a variety of roles, including color, gender and age blind casting.  We did this to challenge the audience’s way of looking at gender and ethnicity– both of which figure prominently in the play.  Punctuated by gripping drumbeats, the play rapidly twists and turns, building to its climax in a way that captures the chaos of a mass extermination of people.

1,000 Hills runs January 19 to January 21 at 7:00 pm at Cleveland Public Theatre.  Heads Up shares a double bill with Mamai Theatre Company’s To The Sea… Both performances run 1 hour.  Tickets are $10 on Thursday and $15 on Friday/Saturday with free beer and wine after the performance on Friday. Ticket are available at www.cptonline.org or by phone at 216.631.2727.

***

Visit our Heads Up Arts Radio page to find an extended interview with playwright India Burton!

-Benjamin Rexroad
Managing Artistic Director

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