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Kevin Simmonds collaborated with Theatre of Yugen to create Emmett Till a river, combining African American and Japanese artistic expression in a cross-genre poetic work. The collaborators noted that Noh is a particularly appropriate creative tradition to address Emmett Till’s vicious 1954 murder: A central theme in Noh—owing to its Buddhist lineage—is a lingering attachment between the dead and the living.

The author of three books, Kevin Simmonds is a poet and composer whose works have been performed throughout the United States, and in Japan, the United Kingdom, Singapore, the Caribbean, and elsewhere. Simmonds and collaborating poet-translator-scholar Judy Halebsky have lived and worked in Japan for nearly 10 years and share extensive knowledge of Japanese history, poetry, and translation. Halebsky was an artist-in-residence at Theater of Yugen at the time of the project’s development.

Theatre of Yugen, creates stylized adaptations of Western classics and new works that combine the traditional Japanese forms of Kyogen (satiric comedy) and Noh (lyric drama) with other performing traditions, while additionally maintaining a repertoire of Kyogen comedies performed in English. The theater’s Jubileth Moore worked closely with Simmonds and Halebsky in developing the oratorio, with the three of them working in tandem with the cast and musicians.