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Governors State's Center for Performing Arts Explores Questions of Policing in Podcast Play Series

If you look up “feral” in the Oxford dictionary, you will find three definitions listed.

  "existing in a wild or untamed state"

  "having returned to an untamed state from domestication"

 "of, or suggestive of, a wild animal; savage"

Playwright and activist Shepsu Aakhu was focused on the second definition when he penned “Feral,’’ which tells the story surrounding the death of FX (Francis Xavier), a politically motivated, idealistic graffiti artist, and his family’s struggle with the media response to black victimhood and trauma.

First performed in 2016, and now set to premiere at Governors State’s Center of Performing Arts’ (the Center’s) YouTube channel on Nov. 30, the podcast play is part of a special series to commemorate the theater’s 25-year anniversary.

Opening in 1995, the Center and its 1,171-seat theater has evolved into the premiere cultural destination in the Southland, offering rich and engaging experiences for theater goers of all ages.

Anniversary highlights include an invitation to the community to share stories of their experiences with the Center, as well as a production lineup that inspires deep thought and candid dialogue about complex issues of class and race facing the nation today.

Aakhu said he was thinking of freedom when he wrote “Feral” in 2015.

“In the truest sense, feral, denotes transitioning from the state of domesticity and being owned by somebody else to being left in the world to your own devices,’’ said Aakhu, founding member of MPAACT (Ma’at Production Association of Afrikan Centered Theatre). MPAACT is collaborating with the Center for the sixth time to feature “Feral” and the podcast play “Black and Blue.”

“Feral used to be a house cat that is now left to fend for self,’’ said Aahku.

Themes of policing also lie at the center of “Black and Blue,” which reflects the turmoil of men and women who swear to serve and protect. The production carries a poignant message at a time when the nation is at odds over these very colors.

“Black and blue deals with a conversation started by W.E.B. Dubois. What does it mean to exist in a world where you aren’t sure if you are part of the problem or the solution?” Aakhu said.

J. David Shanks, a former Chicago police officer, is part of the Nov. 14 Beyond Conversation: Black, Blue and Beyond panel that will explore the relationship and tensions between the Black Lives Matter movement and law enforcement, as well as what it means to be in law enforcement and Black.

Shanks is also co-writer on the Netflix series "Seven Seconds," which follows the story of a 15-year-old Black cyclist Brenton Butler who dies in a hit-and-run accident with a white police officer behind the wheel of the vehicle  setting off explosive racical tensions.

Themes of policing also arise in Aakhu’s “Feral,” inspired by a graffiti artist in New Orleans. Aakhu and his wife were celebrating a second honeymoon in 2015 at a restaurant.

Over the shoulder of an African American waiter, Aakhu caught a glimpse of “Feral” splashed across a wall in the distance, seemingly far removed from the reality of an elderly Black man serving a young, upscale clientele overlooking Bourbon Street. 

Aakhu allowed himself to entertain a series of streaming thoughts before landing on the premise of his next work: 

“America is a feral country—one that hasn’t worked out how to be free after having lived in the state of having been owned and controlled by someone else. And, we, as Black people are trying to figure it out.

Feral runs through Dec. 13, in conjunction with the Dec. 12 panel: Beyond Conversation: Shaping our Narrative.

Read more about the MPAACT and CPA collaboration here.