Films, literature and music have an interesting way of reflecting the culture of the time. Films, in particular those that have stood the test of time, seem to create a unique imprint on our collective consciousness.
In 1988, a young filmmaker named Shelton Jackson “Spike” Lee did just that with his second feature, “School Daze.”
“School Daze” follows the story of Mission College (an imaginary HBCU) students during a very eventful homecoming weekend. Half Pint, played by Lee, wants nothing more than to join the illustrious ranks of Gamma Phi Gamma, the most popular fraternity on campus. His membership intake process and the events surrounding it helped highlight several issues in the Black community such as colorism, elitism and misogyny.
The movie received a mixed reception.
Administrators at various Black institutions of higher learning were a little less than complimentary. Many of them felt the film depicted HBCUs in a negative light. In fact, during production, Lee and his film crew were kicked off the campuses of Morehouse, Spelman and Clark Atlanta.
Despite the drama, the late Roger Ebert said, “There is no doubt in my mind that ‘School Daze,’ in its own way, is one of the most honest and revealing movies I’ve ever seen about modern middle-class black life in America.”
Demarco Plays, a touring theater outfit founded by Antwan Demarco, is bringing all the action and drama to the stage in a theatrical presentation of the film titled “School Daze: The Musical.”
Tijideen “TJ” Rowley, the play’s director, said the production has been in the works for quite a while. During an impromptu meeting, the idea was thrown around to create a stage adaptation of the film, and after seven to eight months of planning, the team got to work. “I think it came at the perfect time,” he said. “I think it addresses a lot of pertinent things happening in our city, so it’s kind of a godsend.” Rowley shared the tension between “Greeks” and those without fraternal associations depicted in the movie are similar to the intraracial violence we experience today. “Whether it’s over a street, or colors … you have the same situation with G Phi G and Dap’s crew. All in all, they’re all Black, they’re all Black men who, in essence, want the same things.”
The large cast of almost 60 actors, dancers and musicians includes Dutchez Duvall, who captivated audiences as Shug Avery in Joyce Licorish’s production of “The Color Purple,” as Gamma Ray queen, Jane Toussaint (originally portrayed by Tisha Campbell) and newcomer Marcus Elliott in the role of Half Pint.
Elliott, who is a comedian by trade, shared that it was tough to take his self-professed “smooth” persona down a few notches for this role. “Half Pint is trying to fit in. It’s hard for him. For me, bringing this role to life had its challenges at first,” he said. “The more and more I got into it, it became easier.”
The production will stay true to Spike Lee’s musical vision with lots of dance performances, singing and things to get the crowd involved as well.
Rowley said that the show will not disappoint. “It’s an awesome cast. I really think that it has layers of different messages that our community needs to hear. We always bring it with Demarco Plays and this, because of the weight it carries as a classic, has been one of our more challenging productions,” he said. “We always aim to entertain at the utmost … come out, be inspired and enjoy it.”
Get your School Daze tickets
Demarco Plays Presents: “School Daze: The Musical”
WHEN: Oct. 28–30
WHERE: Dr. Andrew J. Brown Academy, 3600 N. German Church Road
Visit demarcoplays.com to purchase tickets and see showtimes.