The performance brings to life the first part of a 300-page novel Jason Tristan Brown started writing in high school. After declaring an independent concentration in Black Speculative Arts and Afrofuturism, he worked with Elmo Terry-Morgan ’74, associate professor of Africana studies and Theatre Arts & Performance Studies, to turn part of his book into a play as his capstone project.
To help the play reach its full potential, Terry-Morgan offered a class, AFRI 1050L:“RPM Playwriting: Advanced and Staging” this spring. The course focused on producing the performance and allowed other students to participate in the endeavor.
Jason Tristan Brown’s play follows Iyanu, an orphan who has been adopted into a forest tribe, and the many challenges he faces as an outsider. When a mysterious illness that endows community members with straight yellow hair and blue eyes befalls the tribe, Iyanu and his two siblings must travel around Africa in search of a cure.
“Our hero Iyanu must travel an uncharted path in this fantastical Pan-African odyssey made possible with the support of friends, spirits and a bit of magic,” reads the play’s program, which was written by Gina Rodriguez-Drix ’08.5, the Department of Africana Studies’ events and performance manager.
Jason Tristan Brown told The Herald that he wrote “Afrofantasia” because he “really wanted to fill a void in the shelf.” As an admirer of authors Octavia E. Butler and Toni Morrison, he wanted to write a piece of fantasy that incorporated African culture.
The performance featured elaborate costumes and an extensive forest set design. Actors also used various masks and puppets in different scenes.
Haider Dhalla ’25, one of the students who participated in Terry-Morgan’s class, said that what made this performance unique was “the potential, the scale, the creation of an entirely different world.”
Throughout the semester, Terry-Morgan and his co-director Connie Crawford, adjunct lecturer in Theatre Arts & Performance Studies, invited different professionals to guide students through workshops ranging from singing and movement to storytelling.
Erminio Pinque — artistic director of BIG NAZO, a Providence-based performance group and studio — taught the actors how to move with puppets. And Frederick Fraleigh, who has worked on movies such as “Captain America” and “The Hunger Games,” helped bring to life the masks and puppets used throughout “Afrofantasia.”
“I was blown away,” audience member Tierra Williams ’24.5 told The Herald after the performance, noting that she liked “the creative use of scale.”
While the play tackles serious themes such as violence and segregation, Jason Tristan Brown did not intend for it to be political. “I’m not someone who writes things to be political. I’m not someone who writes things with an agenda,” he said. “I’m just telling a story.”
Performances of “Afrofantasia” will continue until Friday, April 29.