UM-Flint’s “EMBERS” Looks for Meaning in Flint Fires

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

“What does it mean when a town starts burning itself up?”  That’s the central question posed in the University of Michigan-Flint’s EMBERS, a unique and incisive theatre piece currently touring in Flint. Subtitled The Flint Fires Verbatim Theatre Project, EMBERS brings its audience together in many of the very places the fires raged and gives voice to many not heard before.

Project Director Andrew Morton explains that this “verbatim theatre” script grew out of many hours of transcribed interviews with people impacted by the fires.  Firemen, neighbors, political figures, community activists as well as unaffected bystanders all are given a voice in EMBERS.

Credit must go to those who gathered the information and to those who compiled it into a narrative performance script.  At Saturday’s performance, we gathered behind Hoffman’s Deli on Garland. The green space adjacent was the spot where the 100 year old Jackson-Hardy House once stood before it was burned to the ground on a Sunday morning last fall.

EMBERS is an emotional piece for Flintites who remember well the mornings filled with the smell of smoke and the nights alive with sirens. Eighteen cast members continually change costume pieces to play many roles in bringing these voices to life. They use vignettes, monologues, interpretive dance and music to weave this incredible bit of Flint history into a tapestry they would see hoisted as a call to action.

There is a talk-back after each performance that invites the audience to share their reactions and ideas.  Saturday’s post-play gathering went on well after dark had fallen.  There seemed to be a lot to say.

Kudos to Morton and his script team: Jessica Back, Nic Custer, Elizabeth Brooks, Destiny Dunn, Jessica Flemming, and Michele Johnson.

We would encourage attendance at the remaining performances set for September 9 and 10 at 6:30 pm in the UM-Flint KIVA.   Admission is free, but advance notice is recommended.  For more information, call 810-237-6522 or email Andrew Morton at

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