Arts & Culture

UK Theatre and Dance to Present ‘Black Lives Matter: 1619 to Now’ Feb. 24-27

photo of Najiya Clayborn and Manny Thurman
photo of Alayna Johnson & Quentin Bryson
photo of Maxx Megibben and Najiya Clayborn
photo of Jeremy Gillett and Tony Hardin

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 18, 2022) — Next weekend, the University of Kentucky Department of Theatre and Dance will present four performances of “Black Lives Matter: 1619 to Now.” The play tells the story of a group of students who are creating a documentary drama around the idea of the “Black Lives Matter” movement occurring throughout the centuries, as people endure the struggles for justice and freedom.

Curated by UK faculty and artists, the performance is based on and inspired by the book “Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019,” edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain.

“I am grateful we were granted permission from the editors and authors of selected sections of the book to use their work as a roadmap to help tell this important story to the university community, the city of Lexington and the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” said Tony Hardin, chair of the UK Department of Theatre and Dance and member of the play’s curatorial team.

The project was initially conceived by Herman Daniel Farrell III, University Research Professor in the College of Fine Arts, as a theatrical response to the continuing work of the Black Lives Matter movement and the deaths of Black citizens. Farrell was co-writer of the Peabody Award-winning and critically acclaimed HBO film “Boycott” about Martin Luther King Jr.

“In 2013, the Black Lives Matter hashtag was invented in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin,” said Farrell, who also served as head writer/dramaturg of the play. “We, on the curatorial team, began our work with the premise that the struggle for the recognition that Black Lives Matter in this country dates back to 1619 when the first enslaved Africans were brought to North America.”

In addition to Hardin and Farrell, the curatorial team also includes DaMaris Hill, associate professor of creative writing in the UK College of Arts and Sciences; Jeremy Gillett, UK alumnus and visiting assistant professor of acting; and Destin Lamontae Mizelle, a Ph.D. candidate in counseling psychology in the UK College of Education.

The dramatization of ‘Four Hundred Souls’ is an important undertaking,” said Hill, who is also the award-winning author of “A Bound Woman” and “Breath Better Spent.” “As creative collaborators, we recognize the power of art to generate a transformative experience for the audience. Therefore, we take the responsibility of creating this experience very seriously. It is a way of illustrating the complexity of American democracy.”

“This play is a beautiful collaboration of Black American history and theater,” said Mizelle. “For me, the embodiment of Black joy, pain and resilience on stage has been a liberating and healing experience. It will allow students, faculty and staff members of the University of Kentucky to reckon with American history while simultaneously celebrating Blackness, Black people and the impact they have had on the world.”

Gillett, who is serving as director of the play, is a 2010 UK theatre graduate. He is an award-winning playwright and author of “Trap House” and “Black and 25 in America” — a one-man play he brought to UK in 2019 to commemorate 70 years of integration on campus. Read more here.

“This is an ambitious and timely production when you consider the growing efforts across the country to remove history from some schools and the ongoing battle for Black Americans to be seen and heard legally, economically and culturally,” Gillett said. “I celebrate the curation team, students and actors for wrestling with the material and making history come alive.”  

“Black Lives Matter: 1619 to Now” runs at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 24-26, and 2 p.m. Feb. 27, at the Guignol Theatre in the Fine Arts Building, 465 Rose Street in Lexington.

Student tickets are $10 and general admission tickets are $15, plus processing fees. Tickets can be purchased online at, or through the Singletary Center ticket office at 859-257-4929.

All audience members are required to wear a mask or face covering over their nose and mouth while attending this performance to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The Department of Theatre and Dance, part of UK College of Fine Arts, is an accredited institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Theatre. Students in the department get hands-on training and one-on-one mentorship from professional theatre and dance faculty and renowned guest artists in acting, directing, playwriting, theatrical design and technology, and dance. From mainstage productions to student-produced shows, students have plenty of opportunities to participate on stage or backstage. Special programs include a musical theatre certificate, education abroad, as well as a thriving dance program that emphasizes technique, composition, performance and production.

Throughout the month of February, the University of Kentucky is celebrating Black History Month with a series of events and programs for the campus community and the public. UK is also honoring its Black alumni who helped push the university forward and established important legacies for the university, community and nation.

Learn more about how you can honor Black history at UK here.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.