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Jalen Steward, Ashlyn Davis (back to camera), Nwachukwu Oputa and Joshua Slack rehearsing during their final dress rehearsal. (Elizabeth Payne/Fresno State Faculty-Costume and Make-Up Design.)

‘Hands Up’ don’t shoot

“7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments”

On Sept. 30, Fresno State’s University Theatre had its opening night for the first production of the school year, Hands Up: 7 Playwrights, 7 Testaments.

Directed by Professor Thomas-Whit Ellis, Hands Up is a play written by seven black playwrights inspired by the fatal shooting of Michael Brown and the events that followed in Ferguson, Missouri.

“The play is based on the series of needless killings at the hands of the police,” Ellis said. “White Americans feel it’s justified because police have the ultimate power and African-Americans feel that there is no reason for the people that are hired to protect and serve to murder them. This play addresses that issue.”

As those attending walked into the Dennis and Cheryl Woods Theatre, they were met with TVs showing videos of police brutality and unjust murders that have happened recently, such as the pool party incident in McKinney, Texas.

The ensemble cast of six Fresno State students – Arium Andrews, Ashlyn Davis, Deandre Jean-Pierre, Nwachukwu Oputa, Joshua Slack, Jalen Stewart – gives an emotional, powerful performance that explored being black in an era of police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The original play intended there to be seven voices; one voice for each testament.

“I didn’t really care for that because it doesn’t work for educational theatre,” Ellis said. “So I took the same lines that were there and split them up between six actors.”

Slack, a fourth year theatre arts and Africana studies major, said getting the narrative right was important to him, but it wasn’t hard to do.

“I remember the day Mike Brown and Ferguson happened and the anger that filled within me at the time,” Slack said. “All I had to do was channel that rage and anger because I felt the writers on an emotional level. Every word that they had written and said, I felt and connected with that.”

Ellis said the play is topical; something relevant right now, today. The play raises awareness of what’s happening in our country and continues that discussion.

“It will encourage more people to get on board with some necessary changes,” Ellis said. “Put more political pressure on our city councils, our governors and the members of Congress to change some of these policies.”

Slack hopes the audience gets that this is not an issue that began with Ferguson, but one that has been going on for years.

“These are things that happen on a daily basis no matter where you are or what class you’re from. As an African-American, there is always going to be racial injustice that is done upon you. For the audience, this is the kind of a wake-up call to realize that this is real life,” Slack said.

Hands Up will be in production for five more days, Oct. 4-8 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $17 and $10 for students. Please note that this contains explicit language, depiction of violence and intense situations. The production is intended for mature audiences.