Freedom Riders is an original musical production created for the Youth Performance Company by Jacie Knight, Matt Koskenmaki and Kahlil Queen (music and lyrics). In the summer of 1961, a group of students boarded buses to challenge segregation. Next to Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Emmett Till (don’t miss Penumbra’s production The Ballad of Emmett Till), the March on Washington and all the events in Birmingham, Alabama, the Freedom Riders created a force that spanned the divisions of race. These young people fought for one common goal: equality.
I had the opportunity to talk to Jacie Knight, the Artistic Director of Youth Performance Company about this production.
Why this subject and why in the month of February?
We made a commitment many years ago that we would do a show once a year/season that focused on young people being “change makers.” Throughout history young people have often been the leaders in creating social change and social justice. Its a great way for us to remind the young people in our audiences and the young artists we work with the importance of them lifting up their voices for those who cannot. We selected the third show of the season to be that slot—although there have been years when we have placed it in a different slot. The current show “Freedom Riders” has an obvious tie for Black History month.
Why is theater an important way o tell this story?
Its a great vehicle to discuss difficult and challenging subject matter. Placing it in an historical context helps our audience see how things were and reminds them also that the work is not done.
How do you prepare your actors and audiences for the difficult and educational stories that you tell around social justice plays?
We have them do research. We watch documentary films about the subject matter, and when possible we bring in speakers. We also spend a fair amount of time talking about it—sharing our thoughts with each other. These kind of shows can bring forward many different types of feelings.