Arts & Culture

UK Theatre to present 'Blood at the Root' Feb. 23-26


LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 22, 2023) —The University of Kentucky Department of Theatre and Dance will present Dominique Morisseau’s striking new ensemble drama based on the Jena Six, “Blood at the Root,” Feb. 23-26, in the Briggs Theatre on UK's campus.

This bold new play by Morisseau, whose other works include "Sunset Baby," "Detroit '67" and "Skeleton Crew," is inspired by the song "Strange Fruit," recorded by Billie Holiday. The play examines the miscarriage of justice, racial double standards and the crises in relations between men and women of all classes and, as a result, the shattering state of Black family life.  

UK’s production of "Blood at the Root" is directed by alumna Meredith Crutcher, who graduated from UK's theatre department in 2021.

“As a recent graduate of this program, returning to the College of Fine Arts to direct 'Blood at the Root' has been a surreal experience," Crutcher said. "The Department of Theatre and Dance played such an essential role in fostering my passion for storytelling. Being able to relate to the students in this production as they continue to hone and develop their craft, while also continuing to receive support and guidance from the faculty has encouraged my evolution as a theatre professional.

As the fourth of my siblings to graduate from the University of Kentucky, my family is familiar with the often-polarizing nature of being a student on this campus," Crutcher said. "It can be challenging for both students and faculty to openly acknowledge and address the many uncomfortable themes playwright Dominique Morisseau tackles. 'Blood at the Root' not only continues to give a voice to the Jena 6, but shines a light on the real-life implications of bigotry, hate crime and allyship. It is my hope that this production helps facilitate future sensitive discussions by providing a platform for those whose pain has been silenced or overlooked. It is vital to the future of this community that we continue courageously calling out acts of injustice."

"Blood at the Root' was inspired by the racially divisive case of the Jena Six, involving six Black Louisiana teenagers accused of an attack on a white schoolmate. According to the ACLU, in the fall of 2006 in Jena, Louisiana, a small town that is 85% white, a series of events unfolded that have had critical consequences for those involved and which indicate an explosive racial justice situation in Louisiana. At Jena High School, students of different races rarely sat together, with Black students typically sitting on bleachers and white students sitting under a large shade tree — referred to as the "white tree." The day after a Black student asked the principal for permission to sit under the so-called "white tree," nooses were hung from the tree. When the principal discovered that three white students were responsible, he recommended their expulsion. But the Board of Education and superintendent overruled his recommendation and reduced the punishment to a three-day suspension.

The superintendent justified this by dismissing the noose hanging as simply an adolescent prank. Tension flared between Black and white students and ultimately, six Back high school students were charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder for their role in the altercations. Although some of the charges were later reduced to aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery, one student still faced an attempted murder charge and up to 50 years in prison without suspension, probation or parole.

“It is wonderful to be presenting this important, political, and astute play and I am thrilled that Meredith agreed to return to us as its director," said season producer Stephen Wrentmore. "She has brought wit and wisdom to the process and taken our students on an amazing creative journey.” 

Performances will be held 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 23-25, and 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Feb. 25-26, at the Briggs Theatre. Tickets are $10 for UK students and $15 for adults (plus $2 ticketing fee to Singletary Center for the Arts) for general admission seating. To purchase tickets, visit the Singletary Center website at or call the ticketing office directly at 859-257-4929. The performance is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French Inc.

Content warning: "Blood at the Root" employs strong language, racial and homophobic slurs, and symbols of violence to accurately depict the story of the Jena Six. 

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.