Pepperdine Theatre Presents Americana: A Murder Ballad
A group of teenagers are stuck in a murder ballad they cannot escape, hunted by a gunman that lurks around every corner. How do they break a cycle of violence when the killer could be anyone—even one of them? From Wednesday, April 5, to Saturday, April 8, students of the Pepperdine Theatre Program will perform Americana: A Murder Ballad, the latest work from Scottish playwright Morna Young, with original music by Davey Anderson and directed by Cathy Thomas-Grant, professor of theatre for the Seaver College Fine Arts Division. Performances scheduled Wednesday to Friday will be held at 7:30 PM in Smothers Theatre. Saturday’s performance will begin at 2 PM.
Fresh from its debut at the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the play links murder ballads—a musical form taken by Scottish and Irish emigrants to the New World—with gun culture and mass shootings that continue to plague the United States. The music also helps to explore how we are trapped in a perpetual cycle of fear, where media and musical traditions glamourize killers, and how mass murder has become performance.
Postponed due to the pandemic, the show was originally commissioned in September 2018, just a couple months prior to the mass shooting on November 8 at Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California. “This production was commissioned before Pepperdine experienced our own personal connection to gun violence from the Borderline shooting,” shares director Thomas-Grant. “There was a deep need to talk about the issue, and it was very difficult. But then when the world shut down, we delayed it to 2022, and I think, of course, it's just as relevant now as it was then.”
While neither prop guns nor the sound of guns are used in this play, the story centers on gun violence in schools. The event program includes a content warning, and the audience is welcome to leave the theatre at any time if they feel uncomfortable. Pepperdine staff members will be available after the performances in the Smothers Theatre lobby to provide support for attendees who wish to talk to someone, including La Shonda Coleman, associate vice president and Title IX coordinator, during Wednesday’s show, Sara Barton, University chaplain, during Thursday evening’s performance, and Joel Foster, youth and family life minister at the University Church of Christ, during the Saturday afternoon performance.
While most of the music played during the performance was orchestrated for the show, recordings of old murder ballads are used as transition music. Thomas-Grant shares that it may help make the dramatic experience more palatable. “Music is quite integral to the performance,” she explains. “When everyone sings together, the beating of the drums and the rhythm of the piece really help inform the storytelling.”
For more information and to purchase tickets to Americana: A Murder Ballad, visit the Center for the Arts website.