Produced in association with the NEA-sponsored art exhibition Illuminating the Darkness: Our Carceral Landscape

Premiere with talkback on Saturday, October 3 at 7pm EDT – Ticket link goes live at 7pm. Please note you will not be able to register before 7pm the day of the premiere.
On-Demand streaming through Friday, October 9 at 11:59pm EDT

When racial tensions begin to arise, what was once a seemingly peaceful high school becomes the volatile and broken community whose racial issues and prejudice have been festering underneath the surface for a long time.

This production contains strong language and disturbing imagery.

The Amplify, Empower, Illuminate: Four Plays, Many Diverse Voices series is sponsored by

Creative Team

Costume Designer:
Raymond Veliz*

Video Design and Production:
Joel Zishuk*/Ben Lowe*

Sound Designer/Co-Composer:
Lindsay Putnam

Artwork by:
Omari Booker

Vocal Arranger/Co-Composer:
Ethan Walker*

Stage Managers:
Sophia Faust*
Sarah Simone*

Director: David Reed


'Blood at the Root' cast headshots
'Blood at the Root' cast headshots

RAYLYNN: Athena Jean-Étienne
TORIA: Blake Parker
ASHA: Isa Jones
JUSTIN: Macoy Stewart
COLIN: Woodrow Jackson Helms
DE’ANDRE: Gerald Kitt
PRINCIPAL VOICE OVER: Darren Escarcha-Cajipo

DA VOICE OVER: Chris Creane
ENSEMBLE VOICES: Ethan Walker, Gerald Kitt, Athena Etienne, Mackenley Ria, Naihra Garavelo, Hannah Kapuschinsky
U/S RAYLYNN: Raven Lawrence
U/S TORIA: Juniper O’Hara
U/S ASHA: Jaime Happel
U/S COLIN: Andres Procel


Assistant Stage Managers: Lauran Conran*, Jade Collins*
Assistant Director: Emily Williams*
Dramaturg: Taylor Wikoff*
Movement Director: Gerald Kitt*
QLab Operator: Lukas Royer*

*denotes UCF student. All cast members are UCF students.


Director of the School of Performing Arts: Michael Wainstein
Artistic Director: Julia Listengarten
Director of Production: Bert Scott

Undergraduate Coordinator: Kristina Tollefson
Faculty Designer/Advisor: Huaixiang Tan
Faculty Designer/Advisor: Vandy Wood
Faculty Dramaturg/Advisor: Chloë Edmonson
Faculty Designer/Advisor: Tim Brown
Faculty Designer/Advisor: Rob Siler
Production Manager: Gary Brown
Technical Director: John Heil
Assistant Technical Director: Shannan Rath
Sound Designer/Advisor: Lindsay Putnam
Master Electrician: Edd Gordon
Costume Shop Manager/Designer/Advisor: Daniel Jones
Costume Shop Floor Supervisor: Robin Ankerich
Faculty Stage Management Advisor: Claudia Lynch

There is a rage that sears the pages of Dominique Morisseau's Blood at the Root. One scene in particular continues to resonate with me; a scene during which a group of disenfranchised students unite and protest against a system that refuses to listen to them— an embodiment of the power dynamics behind systemic racism. In my first reading of the play, I saw a unit of bodies exploding into the space, I saw their chests heaving, their fists beating grief into the ground… I saw a primitive rage. A rage that grows like a tumor and bursts like an untreated cyst. Morisseau utilizes this collective, human rage and reshapes it, entwining it with poetry and music. In doing this, she unifies an unorganized, chaotic sensation with intrinsic structure and balance— she articulates the institutional shape racism takes on today, delves at its roots, and cultivates a glimpse into the sinister nature of these crops we continue to harvest.

This scene could have turned out an infinite number of ways— ways I'm certain would have resonated with the most innate parts of you. It pains me to deprive you of living these moments in a space where you could share this human experience together, as a collective. That being said, this is an experiment; we hope these ideas continue to resonate, even in a virtual setting. No matter the space, the story remains. The root remains. The rage remains. What kinds of seeds are we sowing for tomorrow?

— Emily Williams

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root”

Billie Holiday

The title of this play, Blood at the Root, comes from a 1939 Billie Holiday song entitled “Strange Fruit.” The song protests the lynching of black Americans and acknowledges how anti-blackness is part of the foundation of our country. Like Holiday's poetic imagery, the tree in front of Jena High School also takes on great meaning within the world of Blood at the Root, coming to represent how anti-black racism has “roots” in our country’s history and institutions. The events and protests of 2020 remind us that these realities still exist today. As much as we want to examine and change racism in America, it is difficult to abolish something so deeply rooted in our history.  

At the same time, trees are living organisms that are constantly regenerating new cells. Perhaps, with work and attention, our root systems as a nation can grow and change too. As part of this ongoing effort, Theatre UCF, along with many theatres across the country, are striving to recognize the roots of racism within our communities. As the first installation in a season of plays chosen to "Amplify, Empower, Illuminate" diverse voices, we present to you Blood at the Root, a play written by a black playwright who is herself invested in the intergenerational project of anti-racism in America. We've also partnered with the Visual Art Department's presentation of the work of visual artists such as Omari Booker. Booker began painting while incarcerated in Tennessee and his work is on display alongside other impactful artists in the exhibition entitled: "Illuminating the Darkness: Our Carceral Landscape." 

This kind of programming, which sheds light on issues of structural racism such as mass incarceration and racial violence, is especially necessary in this historic moment. As a dramaturg, I feel that producing thematically challenging plays that uplift black voices is part of the regenerative process to regrow our roots as a theatre community and as a country.

— Taylor Wikoff 

Chris Creane (DA) is a third-year MFA Acting student. He has been seen on the Theatre UCF stage in The Rover (Don Pedro/Willmore) and Our Country’s Good (Robert Sideway). Prior to UCF, he performed nationally and internationally in 13 different countries including UAE, Argentina, Mexico, and Taiwan. He is currently an intern at Orlando Shakes as well as teaching classes with the Orlando Rep.

Darren Escarcha-Cajipo (Principal Miller) is a third-year graduate student in the MFA Acting program. Theatre UCF credits include The Rover (Willmore), A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (The D’Ysquith Family), Titanic: The Musical (1st Officer Murdoch) and Our Country’s Good (Capt. Tench/ Cesar). Instagram: @iamdarrenescarcha

Isa Jones (Asha) is a junior in the BFA Acting program. Stage credits include Water by the Spoonful (U/S Yazmin Ortiz), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Hermia), Into the Woods (Little Red), and Footloose (Rusty). She is also a director, photographer, and digital media creator. Instagram: @isaajoness

Jaime Happel (U/S Asha) is a first-year in the BFA Acting program. This is her first production at Theatre UCF. Some of her favorite roles include Ruth in Blithe Spirit, Erma in Anything Goes and Jessie in Proposin’. Instagram: @jaimehappel

Woodrow Jackson Helms (Colin) is a sophomore BFA Musical Theatre major from Macclenny, Florida. Recent credits include Inspector Pinkney in A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder at UCF and singing bass for the SwellTones at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. @jackson.helms

Athena Jean-Étienne (Raylynn) is a junior in the BFA Musical Theatre program. She has been seen on the Theatre UCF stage in A Gentleman’s Guide To Love and Murder (Ensemble), Titanic (Ensemble, U/S Caroline Neville), and Hot Mikado (Katisha U/S). Other theatre credits include Cinderella (Marie), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Esmerelda), and Into the Woods (The Witch).

Gerald Kitt (De’Andre) is a junior in the BFA Acting program. Past Theatre UCF credits include Urinetown (Hot Blades Harry/Assistant Choreographer), Water by the Spoonful (U/S Chutes&Ladders) and Of Mice and Men (Crooks). He also directs and choreographs for children’s theatre programs. Instagram:

Raven Lawrence (U/S Raylynn) is a transfer student in the BFA Acting program. This is her first Theatre UCF production. At her previous college, she performed in shows such as Aida (Aida), Into the Woods (Witch) and Man of La Mancha (Aldonza). She also participates in UCF’s a cappella society as music director for the group KeyHarmony.

Shahmad Muhammad (Narrator, U/S Justin, U/S De’Andre) is a third-year transfer student in the BFA Acting program. His past Theatre UCF stage credits include Urinetown (Assistant Director), The Rover (Phillipo, Masquerader), Sweat (Evan),  #GodHatesYou (U/S Noah), Titanic: The Musical (Ensemble) and Hot Mikado (Swing). Other previous theatre credits include Sing On, Ms. Griot (Mansa Musa) and One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show (Felix). Instagram: @shahmoody

Juniper O’Hara (U/S Toria) is a second-year student in the BFA Acting program. This is her UCF debut. Some of her favorite roles include Into the Woods (The Baker’s Wife), Urinetown (Penelope Pennywise) and Crucible (Abigail Williams). 

Blake Parker (Toria) is a junior in the BFA Acting program. She has been seen in Project Spotlight’s First Miss (Michelle), Break (Julie), and Anomalies Anonymous (Reese). Other theatre credits include Leading Ladies (Meg), I Hate Hamlet (Deirdre), and Legally Blonde the Musical (Whitney/Delta Nu). Instagram: @blakeparker82

Andres Procel (U/S Colin) is a second-year student in his first year of the BFA Acting program. Prior Theatre UCF credits include Sweat (U/S Stan) and The Rover (Officer, Masquerader, U/S Don Pedro, U/S Page to Belville). Other favorite credits include Anything Goes (Lord Evelyn Oakleigh) and The Wizard of Oz (Cowardly Lion).

Macoy Stewart (Justin) is a junior in the BFA Musical Theatre program. He was born and raised in Miami, Florida where he attended New World School of the Arts and studied Musical Theater. His Theatre UCF mainstage debut was Titanic: The Musical at UCF Celebrates the Arts 2019, and was last seen in UCF’s production of Sweat by Lynn Nottage in the role of Chris.

Omari Booker (Visual Artist) graduated with a B.S. in graphic design from Tennessee State University. He is a studio artist who has been included in gallery and museum exhibitions. He currently is exhibiting in Illuminating the Darkness: Our Carceral Landscape at the UCF Art Gallery. Instagram and Facebook: @OmariBooker

Jade Collins (Assistant Stage Manager) is a sophomore in the BFA Stage Management program. She is currently on the creative team for Break the Broom. This is her first Theatre UCF production and she is excited to share this story!

Lauran Conran (Assistant Stage Manager) is a junior in the BFA Stage Management program. Her previous credits include Urinetown (Assistant Stage Manager), El Wiz for Pegasus PlayLab (Stage Manager), and The Lion King Jr. at the Orlando REP (Assistant Stage Manager).

Sophia Faust (Stage Manager) is a third-year transfer student in the BFA Stage Management program. Her previous Theatre UCF credits include Sweat (Assistant Stage Manager), It’s a Small World (Or, The Robot Play) (Assistant Stage Manager), and Titanic: The Musical (Production Assistant). Other credits include The Nutcracker (Stage Manager) and Writes of Spring: Passage at the Orlando REP (Assistant Stage Manager).

Ben Lowe (Projection Designer) is a third-year in the BFA Design and Technology program, focusing on video and lighting design. Most recently he was the video designer for Water by the Spoonful and the assistant master electrician on The Rover

Lukas Royer (QLab Operator) is a sophomore in the BFA Design and Technology program. This is his first Theatre UCF production.

Sarah Simone (Stage Manager) is a third-year transfer student in the BFA Stage Management program. Some of her previous credits include They Must Be Women Now! at Pegasus PlayLab (Stage Manager), The Last Paving Stone for the Theatre UCF TYA Tour (Assistant Stage Manager) and The Lion King Jr. at the Orlando REP Youth Academy (Assistant Stage Manager).

Raymond Veliz (Costume Designer) is a junior in the B.A. Theatre Studies major. He has previously been the First Hand for UCF’s production of Titanic: The Musical and Wardrobe Head for Water by the Spoonful. Other credits include Assistant to the Costume Designer for Madagascar: The Musical and It’s a Wonderful Life. He is actively involved in Fashion Society at UCF and teaches beginner-level students basic sewing and crafting skills.

Ethan Walker (Vocal Arranger/Co-Composer) is an Orlando-based performer currently working at the Garden Theatre. He is a senior in the BFA Musical Theatre and Dance Minor programs. He performed in Theatre UCF’s Titanic: The Musical, Hot Mikado and An Octoroon and has performed outside of Theatre UCF in productions of Hello Dolly, Les Misérables and theme park performances. He is so happy to have this opportunity to create music for such an impactful show. 

Taylor Wikoff (Dramaturg) is a junior in the B.A. Theatre Studies program. Previously, he was part of The Rover (Run Crew) here at Theatre UCF. Other credits include Claire’s Jonny (Michael) and Uncle McGuffin’s Last Will and Testament (Lawyer). He is a member of Playback UCF and is currently working on an honors thesis about dramatic form and narratives of abuse.

Emily Williams (Assistant Director) is a third-year transfer in the BFA Acting program. Her previous work with Theatre UCF includes The Rover (Masquerader, U/S Lucetta), Sweat (U/S Tracey) and The Last Paving Stone (U/S Dolor, Rama, Hizzonor). She is also a member of the improv and sketch comedy group Quadruple Stuffed Oreos. Instagram: @EmilyWillilliams

Joel Zishuk (Multimedia Design and Production) is a senior in the BFA Design and Technology Program and holds a minor in Computer Science. Previous Theatre UCF credits include A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (Assistant Projection Designer), Pegasus PlayLab 2019 (Master Electrician), Titanic: The Musical (Asst. to the Lighting Designers/Programmer) and Of Mice and Men (Light Board Operator). Local design credits include Be More Chill (Lighting Designer).

Musicality is at the core of Dominique Morisseau's play Blood at the Root. In fact, its title derives from a lyric in Billie Holiday's famous song "Strange Fruit." As a companion piece to Theatre UCF's livestreamed production, dramaturg Taylor Wikoff has created a playlist of songs reflecting powerful themes in the play, such as pain, fragility, introspection, self-contextualization, power, reclamation, and - of course - roots.

We recommend listening to this playlist immediately after you attend the production. As you listen, try immersing yourself in each song, like a mediation.

Please note that some of the songs contain explicit language.

“Blood at the Root” is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals on behalf of Samuel French, Inc.

“Blood at the Root” was commissioned by the Penn State School of Theatre, and was first produced by Penn State Centre Stage, Dan Carter, Producing Artistic Director.
The New York Premiere of Blood at the Root was produced by Penn State Centre Stage and presented by Hi-ARTS and the National Black Theatre, Inc.


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