On a fateful Sunday morning seven years ago, Sundeep Morrison received a phone call from her brother in Wisconsin that shook her to her core. A white supremacist had attacked the Oak Creek Sikh Temple, where her parents usually went to pray.
Morrison’s parents happened to have gone to a different gurdwara that morning, but six people lost their lives at the hands of the hate crime.
Filled with anger, fear and sadness, the Los Angeles-based writer, actor, director and activist says she began to write. And a short story flowed out.
“I wrote as a source of release, as a source of therapy, just to get my emotions out,” Morrison says.
The story evolved into a one-woman show called Rag Head, which will be making its Milwaukee debut this weekend at the Broadway Theatre Center to benefit the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee.
It explores the ways hate, racism and xenophobia can show up in both overt and more subtle ways. It also questions what it means to be an American.
“I feel like we’re plagued by a sense of othering in America, and that’s what I hope to show in the play, is how do we really view Americans? Who is really an American?” notes Morrison.
Hate crimes have increased against Sikhs and other immigrant communities after 9/11, and in this current political moment Morrison says her message feels more urgent than ever.
“I think that any time there’s political rhetoric, it’s going to be echoed in how citizens treat each other, and I think we’re in a very divisive time right now,” she says. “I think it’s actually gotten worse. I think everything that was maybe said or felt behind doors is now at our doorstep, and it’s a very scary time.”
While the play was inspired by tragedy, Morrison says it was also inspired by the resilience and beauty she witnessed being raised by immigrants and growing up in the Sikh community.
“America is beautiful, and it has a rich diverse history of immigrants contributing, building the infrastructure,” she says.
Morrison hopes that Rag Head will encourage understanding and motivate people to take action in their daily lives against discrimination and hate.
Tickets for Rag Head are available at the Broadway Theatre Center for shows on Aug. 3 and 4. A Sikh awareness workshop and Q&A session will follow each performance, and all proceeds will support the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee.