Court Theatre has acquired the rights to Greg Kot’s 2014 biography of Chicago-born music legend Mavis Staples, I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the Music that Shaped the Civil Rights Era. Kot is the former music critic for the Chicago Tribune, editorial director of the music platform the Coda Collection, and co-host of Sound Opinions. Playwright Tyla Abercrumbie is leading the work of adapting the life of Mavis Staples for Court’s stage. A cast member on Showtime’s The Chi, Abercrumbie has been hailed by critics as “the next August Wilson.” Using the methods of history, dramaturgy, biography and musicology, students in this course will work with Court’s artistic team to map the story’s rich historical landscape, excavate the essential characters and identify the key events—social, political and musical—that a playwright might explore. Students will pursue individual research projects grounded in the epic journey of the Staples family and its powerful mobilizing role in the Civil Rights movement. Mavis Staples continues to blend gospel, blues, rock and protest music in her work; her collaborators include Bob Dylan, Prince, and Chuck D. Students will trace the Staples family’s story via multiple archives to build a portfolio of sound recordings, oral history interviews, photographs, newspapers, film and video recordings that will help bring the production to life. Kot and Abercrumbie will be regular guests in class.
Students enrolled in this course will be invited on an immersive research expedition in the southern US in Summer 2023, traveling to Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Washington, D.C., in order to trace the steps of the Staple Singers as they made music—and Civil Rights—history.