BYU Theatre Production of ‘North Star’ Views Struggle for Civil Rights through a Child’s Eyes

Playwright Gloria Bond Clunie directs powerful coming-of-age story

Streamed event March 4, 5 and 6, 2021 at 7:30 p.m., followed by director Q&A

This March, the BYU Department of Theatre and Media Arts is proud to present “North Star” by African-American playwright Gloria Bond Clunie. Clunie will direct the production remotely from her home in the Chicago area. 

Set in North Carolina in the 1960s, “North Star” is the story of Relia, an African-American girl searching for her place to shine. The joyous innocence of her summer is transformed by the rising tensions of her community’s battle for freedom. 

The event, staged as a virtual reading, will be streamed free online for all audiences. A Q&A session with Clunie via Zoom follows each performance.

“This is the first time in history BYU has done a Black play — written by a Black playwright, with a primarily Black cast,” said BYU professor of theatre education Julia Ashworth, who is producing the play. “The timing is largely due to the race reckoning happening in America right now. The historic nature of this play can serve as a source of healing both nationally and internationally.” 

The stellar cast consists of BYU students and actors from the local community. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) student Sariah Lyles wears multiple hats in the production, playing a lead role while serving as assistant director. LDS Genesis Group member Harry Bonner also stars.

“Producing this play at BYU is a historic event,” said dramaturg Sydney Southwick. “The beautiful story touched me, and I wanted to be a part of the team that will bring this story to the BYU audience.”

Ashworth sees the play as an unparalleled opportunity to foster education and engagement, not only in Utah but all around the world. “This production will shine a light on how today’s struggle for civil rights owes a debt to those who started the movement so long ago,” she said.

Growing up, Southwick remembers learning about prominent Civil Rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., but she recognizes that the stories of many lesser-known figures are rarely told.

“I never learned about Diane Nash, one of the leaders of the Freedom Riders. I never learned the name of Emmet Till’s mother, Mamie Till, who stood strong in the fight for justice after an all-white male jury acquitted her son’s murderers,” she said. “But the most striking realization to me was the hundreds of children who marched alongside their parents. 

“There is something spectacular about young children having the drive to act against what is wrong,” she continued. “Their capacity for empathy and love is so much greater than we can imagine. There is much to be learned from the courageous children in both performances like this one and in our own lives.”