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The College of Arts Sciences

One-man play tells story of Gregory Bright’s wrongful conviction

By: Lindsey White,  Department of Performing and Media Arts
September 29, 2016

When: Saturday, October 15, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Flexible Theatre, Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts

In 1975, Gregory Bright was wrongfully convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Bright served 27-and-a-half years of that sentence. On Saturday, Oct. 15, Bright will perform his one-man show, Never Fight a Shark in Water: The Wrongful Conviction of Gregory Bright, at 7:30 p.m. in the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts’ Flexible Theatre. The performance is co-sponsored by Cornell University’s Department of Performing and Media Arts (PMA) and the Minority, Indigenous, and Third-World Studies Research Group (MITWSrg).

Illiterate when he entered prison, Bright taught himself to read and write, and eventually studied law. Without the assistance of legal counsel, Bright appealed his case up to the State Supreme Court, at which point the Innocence Project New Orleans became involved. Bright was exonerated and gained his freedom.

For several years after his release, Bright and author Lara Naughton worked together to create the one-man play Never Fight a Shark in Water: The Wrongful Conviction of Gregory Bright, based on Bright’s life. Bright and Naughton will bring the play to Cornell University’s Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts for one night only on Saturday, Oct. 15, at 7:30 p.m.

“This is a powerful piece of theatre, a story of a great injustice, yet written and performed with sensitivity, wit, and irony,” said Bruce Levitt, PMA professor and facilitator for the Phoenix Players Theatre Group at Auburn Correctional Facility.

“The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the entire world, with one out of every one hundred citizens behind bars,” according to Sara Warner, PMA associate professor and director of graduate studies. “People of color are disproportionately policed, jailed, and sentenced to death at significantly higher rates than their white counterparts. While racial minorities make up about 30% of the U.S. population, they account for a staggering 60% of those imprisoned. One in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime,” Warner noted. “Mr. Bright’s harrowing story makes us acutely aware of the deeply entrenched racism and institutionalized discrimination that undergirds both the American judicial system and the prison industrial complex. His case shows us precisely why prison reform is a cornerstone of the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Bright’s acting credits include appearances in 12 Years a Slave and in television shows such as Tremé, American Horror Story, and Memphis Beat. He lives in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The performance is free and open to the public. No tickets are required but seating is limited and is on a first-come, first-served basis. 

Gregory Bright