Thoughts on The High Ground

More than a century after the Tulsa race massacre killed hundreds and destroyed the prosperous Greenwood District, a Black man in army garb still stands his ground on present-day Tulsa’s Standpipe Hill. Traversing space and time, The High Ground is an a lyrical story of the mysteries of love and loss, reminding us of what it takes to re-emerge from the devastation of a century, long after the embers have turned to ash

During The High Ground’s first rehearsal presentation, Arena staff, trustees, and donors received a sneak peek into the design of the show. We wanted to share some of their thoughts and insights with you!

Here is the tableau our creative team painted for us: in The High Ground the aforementioned Soldier calls a tower from Standpipe Hill his home; meanwhile, a woman, known as V, attempts to convince him to come down. The set and costumes are just as important as our actors are in telling this story…

Paige, set designer

Paige, Set Designer, explained the set,We have a lovely romantic vision that we are trying to communicate and we kind of have a date progression going on a little bit. At sunset, a beautiful, romantic soldier goes up into the tower and inside the tower there is a ladder to climb, stairs to the top. And this tower is based on a real place, a razed piece of land with a white water standpipe on top of it that kind of looks down over top of the Greenwood District and then this massacre.”

Sarita, Costume Designer, explained how the costumes also help to tell the tale. “When we enter The High Ground it’s Soldier’s reality. He could be a bum. He could be just a person…And then as the play progresses and you shed some of these layers, he could be transformed into a pristine soldier of the 20s. And that’s his journey. So you break the rules that you create… And then our character, V, when she also enters the space, she reinforces that idea of ‘who is this gentleman?’ and what is this relationship between the two of them?”

The dynamics between the creative team also contribute to making this story as visceral as it can be. Nathan Alan Davis and Megan Sandberg-Zakian, the playwright and director of The High Ground, respectively, talked about their experience working on the play and their vision for the production. Molly Smith, Arena’s Artistic Director, spoke about Megan and Nathan’s special professional relationship. The two longtime collaborators are now both in artistic leadership roles at Boston University. This trio talks about the bonds that have formed prior to taking on this production.

Molly, Artistic Director, noted, “It’s pretty cool that [Megan and Nathan] have had this long term relationship for so many areas, both onstage and off in [your] personal lives, because that there is some of the richness that happens in relationships with artists that we see on stage. Oftentimes it’s invisible to an audience, and yet somehow they know about that level of intimacy that can occur when artists have worked with each other over a period of time.”

Megan, Director

Megan, Director, discussed how the play has helped her reflect on current events. “This play is a lot about what happens when a historically Black community is bulldozed literally and erased by gentrification…It’s a story about what happens when you try to live into a legacy, a historical legacy of love—alongside and in spite of—a historical legacy of trauma. And for me, that’s a beautiful practice and lesson that I feel we all need right now. And it becomes easier, actually, when the stories of trauma are brought into the light and are told.”

Nathan, Playwright

Nathan, Playwright, touched on his gratitude for the process and seeing his story come to life. “It’s moments with people that I have worked with over long years and people that I’m just really [working with for] the first time; I love theater so much, you know, and recognizing the fact that it takes all of us to make it happen, you know, the different roles we have. And I feel really blessed to have the role of playwright.”

We at Arena are very proud to have had a small part in bringing the lost history of the Tulsa Race Massacre to the public. The High Ground is a beautiful and lyrical story of love and loss—a complex portrait brought to life by Nathan Alan Davis, Megan Sandberg-Zakian, and a talented creative team and cast. The High Ground plays from February 10 through April 2 in the Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle.