Nick Fernbaugh | Staff Writer
“You must never be fearful about what you are doing when it is right.”
Those words come from Rosa Parks who on Dec. 1, 1955, refused to give up her seat on the bus and changed history for the Civil Rights Movement forever.
Today, Prime Stage Theatre is honoring the impact of this momentous event by bringing it to life through theater, song and dance with a play titled “Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott,” running from Jan. 19 to 28 at the New Hazlett Theater on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
The theater aimed to give an interpretive deep dive into the historical importance of the event, providing kids the opportunity to learn the relevance of the event from then to now, according to the production’s artistic director Wayne Brinda.
“And that’s pretty much what Rosa Parks does … It’s educating and it’s entertaining as they’re discovering, you know, things that maybe they never knew of,” Brinda said.
The play takes the audience through an hour-long experience of Rosa Parks during the beginning of the Montgomery Bus boycott and her ongoing role as a civil rights activist. Her participation paved the way for a young Martin Luther King Jr. to demand legislative changes to create equality for people of color during a time of segregation and claimed “separate but equal” conditions and privileges.
As an interactive experience, the cast made audience participation a pivotal element by having viewers clap, sing and pass out printed out flyers for the boycott. The audience involvement was part of the production’s goal of making the show exciting and accessible for all ages.
“Everybody can understand it,” said director Linda Haston. “It doesn’t talk down to people, it talks to them. It speaks to them. And the conversation still goes on, even today.”
In order to increase the impact of the Rosa Parks conversation in Pittsburgh, Prime Stage Theatre partnered with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh to present real tools, objects and materials used in the making of their theatrical production, according to their news release.
“Come here [and] learn something while you’re watching the show,” actor Nick Page said. “Then you’re going to want to go home and get on the computer, pick up a book or learn even more.”
“Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott” came to Pittsburgh between MLK Day on Jan. 15 and the beginning of Black History Month Feb. 1, to signify the importance of Black history during intercessions of celebration and year-round.
“It’s a major thing so that we don’t forget where we came from and what we’re trying to do,” said audience member Tyrone Wright.
The artists involved in the theater’s production aim to spread social commentary by showing off the importance of the words stated by Civil Rights leaders.
“They need to go back to the words of Rosa Parks,” Brinda said. “They need to go back to the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and what his ideals were. And I think that is so important right now, that we hear these again, and so important right now that we know and learn what really was happening with the Civil Rights Movement and how far things have come.”
The importance of education through artistic expression is exemplified through the show’s set design, costumes and choice of background music.
The stage used a minimalistic and contemporary design, allowing one small stage at eye level to take on many settings while the costuming highlighted the 1950s with trench coats, sundresses and long pants.
Before entering the theater, visitors were greeted by a lobby full of artifacts, giving them a crash course in the Civil Rights Movement.
“I think it’s great to still educate,” said audience member Jazya Huggins, “especially for the new generation of kids. I think art like this helps bring people together.”
Tickets for upcoming shows can be purchased online, starting at $14 for student patrons. For more information about the play and how to attend, visit https://primestage.com/events/rosa-parks/ or call 412-608-2262.