Graduate acting class blazes a trail with 'Blood at the Root'

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- “Blood at the Root” is a new play by Dominique Morisseau ("Detroit ’67," "Sunset Baby") and directed by Steve Broadnax, the head of Penn State’s graduate acting program. The company will perform at Penn State campuses this spring, followed by an international tour in the summer.

The work, commissioned by the School of Theatre, is inspired by the “Jena Six,” a group of young black men in Jena, La., who were charged with attempted murder after assaulting a white student at their high school in 2007. Previous assaults on black students had gone largely unpunished, and the conviction and sentencing of the Jena Six serve as a strong reminder of racial injustice in the United States. “Blood at the Root” follows six high school students at fictional Cedar High as they learn to look past their own experiences in order to see things from a different perspective.

The message proved universal when the company premiered the new play in a successful three-week tour of South Africa.

“The response was electric all across the country,” said company member Tyler Reilly. “Everywhere we went, people told us how wonderful it was that we were doing this show in their town. They thought we had written the play specifically for them, with their specific issues in mind.”

Despite its decidedly American setting, the play’s specificity resonated with international audiences who saw themselves, their culture and their issues in the piece. Weaving music, dance and poetry to stunning effect, “Blood at the Root” has proven in the U.S. and abroad that this story is not only one that needs to be told, it is one that needs to be seen.

The cast has a busy January ahead. In addition to kicking off their campus tour this month, they will perform at the Martin Luther King Jr. banquet held at 8:30 p.m. Jan. 15 at The Penn Stater. Then, in honor of Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 20, they will perform the play at State College Area High School. After a day of performances, the cast will return to the high school to lead workshops with the students on issues of tolerance, awareness and creating dialogue through theater. The high school will also host a benefit performance of “Blood at the Root” in the at 7 p.m. Jan. 29 in the North Auditorium in support of the group’s upcoming tour to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this August.

Reservations for the benefit performance can be made by emailing, and more information about “Blood at the Root” can be found at as well as the high school’s website,

For more information, contact Allison Jaye, marketing coordinator, at

Last Updated January 14, 2014