AURORA | The Community College of Aurora’s theatre department is holding a production of “HeLa: The Story of Henrietta Lacks” this Friday and Saturday. The play is free and open to the public.
Henrietta Lacks was a Black woman from Baltimore who died of cancer in 1951. Cancer cells taken from her body during treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital were used without her knowledge to create the HeLa cell line, which has been used extensively in medical research in the ensuing decades on everything from polio to HIV and cancer.
Stacey D’Angelo, CCA’s theatre director, said that “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot was the college’s “big read” this year, a tradition where students in many departments throughout the college all read the same book and connect it to their education. D’Angelo thought it would be a great idea for the theatre department to join in by having a play about Lacks for this year’s fall production.
“I thought it would be really cool for students to engage with the text in that way,” she said.
When searching for options she found “HeLa” by Lauren Gunderson and Geetha Reddy, which has only been performed once before in Berkeley. CCA’s performance will be the show’s regional premiere.
“It’s a really cool opportunity for us to engage with a play that hasn’t been produced much before,” she said.
D’Angelo described theater as a container to talk about emotional and powerful subjects, and said that the play has a lot of intense subject matter for students to wrestle with, from the racism and lack of access to good medical care that Lacks and her family struggled with to her death from cancer, which is something that almost everyone has been affected by.
D’Angelo is a cancer survivor herself, and said she thought a lot about how she wouldn’t be here without the benefit of chemotherapy, which was developed with the use of HeLa cells.
“When you think about it, every single human being has been touched by her cells,” she said.
The play has 15 cast members and three technicians and is made up of students from CCA’s theatre classes and others from across campus who auditioned. Throughout the production D’Angelo said the cast thought a lot about what it meant to be portraying real-life historical figures.
“We really dug into what this all means to portray a real family’s story with the respect and dignity that it deserves,” she said.
The play is free to the public and has showings on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the CCA Fine Arts Building on the CentreTech Campus, 16000 E. CentreTech Parkway.