October 15, 2010

'Sundown in Southern Illinois' set at Kleinau

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Sundown takes on a sinister appearance this Halloween weekend at the Marion Kleinau Theatre at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Don’t expect ghouls, werewolves, zombies or any of the usual monsters. Unofficial town ordinances are the danger in “Sundown in Southern Illinois,” a staged presentation of oral history. Performances begin at 8 p.m. Oct. 28-30. Tickets are $7 for general admission, $5 for students.

Elena Esquibel, a doctoral student from Los Angeles majoring in speech communication, with an emphasis in performance ethnography, compiled the stories for and directs this presentation.

Sundown towns refer to white communities where unofficial ordinances barred all non-whites, particularly blacks, from remaining in the town limits after sundown. Sundown towns were at their peak in the late 19th century. With current anti-discrimination laws, they are largely a thing of the past. However, Esquibel noted, vestiges of them remain, and some older Southern Illinois residents remember them firsthand.

“I interviewed about 30 Southern Illinois residents who have lived the majority of their lives in Southern Illinois,” she said. “I talked with them about their knowledge of sundown towns. My youngest interview is 22 years old and the oldest is 81.”

Esquibel said she visited towns in an area ranging from Gallatin County on the east to Murphysboro on the west, from Nashville on the north to Cairo in the south. Her interview subjects were both black and white individuals. Her script, she said, is 98 percent their own words. For the remainder, she put in her own 2 percent.

The end result is, she said, “really intense.” The five-person cast is on stage throughout the performance, taking on different personas as the script dictates.

Esquibel and her cast debut the performance during the Petit Jean Performance Festival in Arkansas, Oct. 21-24. She hopes to add regional high schools to the performance schedule since education is the main goal for Esquibel.

“This is the most important show we’ve done in a long time,” Craig Gingrich-Philbrook, associate professor of performance studies, said.

Tickets are available beginning one hour before the performance at the Marion Kleinau Theater Box Office. The theater is on the second floor of the Communications Building.