The Poetic-Scientific Dream-Fate of Henrietta Lacks

a new play by Lauren Gunderson and Geetha Reddy

When Henrietta Lacks, a 31-year-old African-American mother of five was dying of cancer in a Baltimore hospital in 1951, doctors took samples of her tumor cells and gave the cell line the name HeLa. The HeLa cells were the first ones to stay alive outside the human body and multiply. They became an extremely valuable asset in medical research, generating treatments for polio and numerous other drugs. Millions of dollars were made with Henrietta´s cells. HeLa cells are still used for research in countless labs around the world. Henrietta, however, never gave her consent to have the samples taken and was not even asked. It was not until 1975 that her family learned about the connection between Henrietta and the HeLa cells.

In a kaleidoscope of emotional flashbacks, sweet memories and bitter dreams, HeLa explores the story of Henrietta Lacks’ life and death and her posthumous life. It is a tale of love, togetherness and fate, but also of exploitation, neglect and racism.

“Once again, we see how Black families in the U.S. have served us all, at great cost to themselves.”

Staged Reading

Tickets 8€

with a brief introduction by Prof. Dr. Regine Hengge (Humboldt Universität Berlin) on the significance of HeLa cells for scientific research

Written by Lauren Gunderson and Geetha Reddy

Directed by Günther Grosser

with Lara Babalola, Jill Holwerda, John Julian, Mary Kelly, Quatis Tarkington and Saudia Young