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University of Iowa News Release

Oct. 24, 2005

Iowa City Homeless Inspire UI Theatres' Production 'In The Blood' Nov. 3-13

The challenging lives of Iowa City's homeless population provide the inspiration and backdrop of the University Theatres Mainstage production of "In the Blood" by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan Lori Parks. Performances will be at 8 p.m. Nov. 3-5 and 9-12, and at 2 p.m. Sundays, Nov. 6 and 13, in the David Thayer Theatre of the UI Theatre Building.

The play, which addresses the importance of family, social relationships and spirituality through the basic survival imperatives of homelessness and poverty, was written with a large urban setting in mind. But the production by Tisch Jones, a faculty member in the University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts, uses photographs of the Iowa City homeless -- a population that has increased dramatically from the 600 estimated in 1999 -- and some of the set was designed to match actual locations frequented by local homeless people.

But Jones did not stop there. She asked her student actors to meet, observe and talk with the homeless, and to volunteer at the Emergency Housing Project. "There is no need to think of this as an urban big city issue: It is an Iowa City issue and I would like the production to bring attention to the situation," she explains. "I'm also an educator and immediately wanted comfortable university actors to research life for the homeless here in Iowa City. Once we opened the door to the problem, the actors became very engaged in giving of their time to the shelter house."

And the audience is not exempt, Jones adds: "Through the run of the play, we will also conduct a drive in the lobby of the theater to assist the homeless. We are looking for donations of coats, canned food, phone cards and gift cards and/or money to buy gift cards for use in local stores. Each donation will be recognized with a $2 discount on a future University Theatres production."

Graduate-student actor Joniece Abbott-Pratt portrays Hester, the play's central character, a homeless mother of five, and she was introduced to a woman in the shelter grappling with exactly that challenge.

"The relationship I have developed with the family I met at the homeless shelter has been unforgettable," she says. "I appreciate them so much for letting me ask questions and be a part of their lives. Without knowing much about me, or the project, they were immediately supportive and encouraging, as were many others from the shelter.

"I was able to sit and read scenes for the play with a few of the people there. I would read Hester and they would read the other characters. It was valuable for me as an actor to hear the story with their voices."

Abbott-Pratt explains that the personal stories of the Iowa City homeless have become incorporated into what she invests in the production as an actor. "Hearing these stories fueled my passion for this play in a new way," she says. "From the start I wanted to help tell a story that was honest and truthful. I hope that when people come to see this play they will walk away with a better understanding of what less fortunate people in America and the world are going through."

Jones says she also hopes that audiences will come away with an appreciation for Park's theatrical vision, and her rich use of voice and gesture. "I have come to love the work of this playwright, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of discovery in this production," she says. "It as if she has found that our language has failed us and doesn't have the impact it could have. We live in a very visual world and people don't seem to listen as well as in the past.

"So, how do you make an impact? She has developed a way of writing that seems to guide a production team through the process. She also leaves things up to the imagination."

Parks' plays include "Topdog/Underdog," for which she won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama; "Imperceptible Mutabilities in the Third Kingdom," which won the 1990 Obie Award for Best New American Play; and "Venus," winner of the 1996 Obie Award. "In The Blood" was a nominee for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize.

Her first feature film was "Girl 6," directed by Spike Lee. She wrote the screen adaptation of the novel "Gal" for Universal Pictures and rewrote "God's Country" for Jodie Foster and Egg Pictures.

The artistic team for the University Theatres production of "In the Blood" includes costume designer Allison Hade, lighting designer Bryon Winn, sound designer Anton Jones, dramaturg/choral coach Bryan Moore and movement coach Ralph Hall.

Tickets -- $17 (UI student, senior citizen & youth $8) -- are available in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building Box office.

Tickets are also available at a substantial discount as part of a Division of Performing Arts package.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial 319-335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets may be ordered on-line 24 hours a day, seven days a week through Hancher's website: <http://www.hancher.uiowa.edu>.

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail: <hancher-box-office@uiowa.edu>.

The Department of Theatre Arts is a unit of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, ur-acr@uiowa.edu.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073, winston-barclay@uiowa.edu; Program: Tisch Jones, tisch-jones@uiowa.edu

PHOTOS are available at http://www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa/photos.html.