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JSU Department of Art and Theatre honors Black stories, sets tone with the play ‘Succession’ as their season opener

Succession features the 50-year-old, self-centered actor Marcus Chandler, played by Christian Johnson (right) and his manipulative protege Steve Harrison, played by Chandler Carter (left).

Succession features the 50-year-old self-centered actor, Marcus Chandler, played by Christian Johnson (right) and his manipulative protege, Steve Harrison, played by Chandler Carter (left). (Photo by William H. Kelly III)

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Jackson State University’s Department of Art and Theatre is kicking off its season opener, “Succession,” tonight on Thursday, Oct. 6, at 7 p.m. at the Rose E. McCoy Auditorium. The play tells a modern yet powerful story about Black artistry and the lengths some will take to get to the top.

“Succession” depicts an aged, self-centered actor, Marcus Chandler, infatuated with his ego and accomplishments without regard for those who walked alongside him. Then enters his young protégé, Steve Harrison.

“Steve, an MFA candidate in the Yale school of theater, gets a chance to work with his mentor. He’s so excited about working with his mentor, but we also see throughout the story that Steve has more than just a desire to work with his mentor. He has the mentality of ‘I’m going to do whatever it takes to get to the top regardless of what happens,” said Mark G. Henderson, Ph.D., director of the play and an assistant professor of speech at Jackson State University. “It’s for the art community and supporters of the arts, but even if you don’t fall into those categories, it’s a story that shows how you have to be careful of the bridges you cross and those that you burn.”

The twist and turns in this masterpiece show the extreme lengths an overly-ambitious actor will take to reach success. Henderson explains that the show has an overall message about betrayal and karma that caters to all people and even pays tribute to many Black literary artists along the way.

“Watch the relationships that you destroy on your way to the top because it can affect you on the way down. That’s for anybody, and it’s done against the backdrop of Black theater, so there’s a lot of familiar names like Zora Neal Hurston and Lorraine Hansberry,” said Henderson.

Not only does “Succession” mention notable names in the art and theater community, but it also offers an opportunity to expand and challenge the student actors and actresses on stage.

Henderson mentions that some believe the show is “too big” for college students to handle. JSU sophomore Chandler Carter plays the young, talented and manipulative Harrison. He shares that he looks forward to the challenge and opportunity to explore new roles.

“The most exciting part is the switch from this humble, appreciative guy to this straight demeaning, menace of a character. He’s so obsessed with being successful that he really is an entirely different character when he’s willing to go after something that he really wants,” said Carter. “I think it’s very interesting how we get to see the evil side of human beings when they really want something. I’m very excited about being able to play this role and show how evil we can really be as humans.”

Carter, a speech communications major from Dallas, Texas, says he connects to his character because he also dreams of becoming a great actor.

Succession is a story about universal conditions that go beyond the usual Black stories. The play was written by Charles Wright. Jackson State University will be the first university to perform the show on stage.

Succession is a story about universal conditions that go beyond the usual Black stories. The play was written by Charles Wright. Jackson State University will be the first university to perform the show on stage. (Graphic special to JSU)

“Steve is a go-getter at heart. He loves his craft, he wants to succeed in his craft, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes. Whether it’s manipulating others or using people, he has this dark side to him that he uses to help him flourish and become the actor he wants to be,” said Carter. “I’m also a young man aspiring to be in the acting industry, so I relate to Steve a lot in having that determination to do what you really love to do and being willing to do almost anything to accomplish that. With an exception to the manipulation.”

Christian Johnson, a senior theater major from Itta Bena, Mississippi, plays the 50-year-old Marcus Chandler and speaks more to the play’s message as an actor and what this means for aspiring actors and actresses.

“He has the ‘It-guy’ mindset and wants everyone should move how he wants them to. He also believes that everyone needs him. The show can’t go on without Marcus Chandler. I feel that, for aspiring actors and actresses, what should stand out is to be patient. Your time will come. I understand you’re hungry, and that’s a good thing, but at the same time, be patient in every move that you make. There will be consequences. Especially if it’s hurting somebody else,” said Johnson.

Henderson discovered the play in August at its world premiere while visiting Winston Salem, North Carolina, for the National Black Theatre Festival. He believes this is a story about universal conditions that go beyond the usual Black stories. He also says it sets the tone for every new and upcoming play that portrays the range of the Black human experience.

“This play grabbed me from beginning to end and kept calling me. This play was not even published, so I made it my business to meet the playwright, Charles White, after watching the play. I’m glad to be able to put these new unpublished plays out, and Jackson State can have the privilege of being one of the first universities to act out this story.”

The cast includes a range of characters aged 30 and up. Some include a hypocritical and colorist Black man, the supportive but jealous best friend of Marcus Chandler, an upcoming female director fighting for equality, a nonchalant and highly-witty producer seeking fame, and more.

Tickets can be purchased in the Rose E. McCoy Auditorium box office and online, along with season tickets and subscriptions.

“Succession” is available starting today, Thursday, Oct. 6, through Monday, Oct. 10, at various showtimes.