Historic Figures in “Sound of Freedom”

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In B Street Theatre’s current Family Series production of Martin Luther King Jr. & The Sound of Freedom, many people who stood along Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights movement are highlighted. In this blog, we’ll go into detail these figure’s acts of bravery which changed our country forever

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Rosa Parks & Claudette Colvin 

Rosa Parks became a figure head for the Civil Rights movement on December 1, 1955, when she refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a public bus in Montgomery, Alabama. She became known as the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement as her one decision started the Montgomery Bus Riots. But Rosa Parks was not the first person who refused to move.

At the age of 15, Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on March 2, 1955. She told the bus driver who was attempting to remove her from the seat, “It’s my constitutional right to sit here as much as that lady. I paid my fare, it’s my constitutional right.” Colvin was arrested on several charges, including violating the city’s segregation laws, but Claudette Colvin fought back through the legal system.  Along with four other plaintiffs, Colvin took the state of Alabama’s segregation laws to court in the Browder v. Gayle case. Colvin and the other plaintiffs won, and the federal government deemed that segregated buses were not constitutional.

Claudette Colvin moved to New York City in 1958, but continued to write about the unjust laws which kept African-Americans from advancing in society. In an interview with Newsweek, she said, “”I felt like Sojourner Truth was pushing down on one shoulder and Harriet Tubman was pushing down on the other—saying, ‘Sit down girl!’ I was glued to my seat.” She, along with Rosa Parks, began the fight against segregation in Montgomery, Alabama.

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Fannie Lou Hamer 

Born in Montgomery County, Mississippi, Fannie Lou Hamer was a crop sharer for most of her life. She settled in Sunflower County, Mississippi with her husband ‘Pap Hamer’, who drove a tractor. On one fateful day, while walking by the Ruleville, Mississippi town center, Fannie Lou saw a sign posted by the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and decided to investigate. She joined SNCC and worked as a field worker on the voter registration committee. The committee worked on preparing blacks to read and write so they could register to vote. Seventeen people tried to register and were turned back one day. When her boss was informed of the drive to register, he threatened Fannie Lou and her family with expulsion from the plantation. She left that night and stayed with friends but it wasn’t long before her location was discovered and she and her friends were shot at that night by the KKK.

She refused to back down. In 1963, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) was formed because no help from the Federal Government regarding the right to vote was apparently coming. The party registered 60, 000 new black voters across the state of Mississippi. Delegates from the party were sent to the 1964, Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey where they challenged the seating of the Mississippi delegation.

Fannie Lou took the opportunity to describe to the convention, and to the world, the horrific way she was treated after they left the voter registration workshop in Charleston, South Carolina in June 1963. She said that on the way home, they were hungry and wanted to stop at a Trailways bus terminal in Winona, Mississippi for food. Fannie Lou decided to stay on the bus while the others went into the terminal. They were not served but were arrested. She was also arrested. She was taken out of her jail cell and placed in another cell and, under the orders of a State Highway Patrol officer, was beaten by two black prisoners with a police blackjack—ordered to do so unless the prisoners wanted far worse punishment. The first prisoner beat her until he was exhausted. The law enforcement officer then ordered the second prisoner to beat her. It was three days before members of SNCC were allowed to take her to the hospital. Fannie Lou told the convention that as a result of this beating, she suffered permanent kidney damage, a blood clot in the artery of her left eye, and a limp when she walked. Her riveting testimony to the convention informed the country about the treatment blacks were receiving at the hands of whites in the state of Mississippi and the rest of the south.

Fannie Lou Hamer continued her activism, as she led the cotton picker’s rebellion in 1965 and was instrumental in helping to bring a Head Start program to her hometown of Ruleville, Mississippi and was involved in other programs throughout the state. Fannie Lou was a Democratic National Committee Representative from 1968-1971. She ran for the Mississippi State Senate in 1971 and was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1972.

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James Reeb 

A minister from Boston, Massachusetts, James Reeb was one of many northern clergymen who heard Dr. Martin Luther King’s call on March 8, 1965 and headed down to Alabama to march for freedom. Reeb was known in Boston as a minister who challenged his congregations to acknowledge the injustice African-Americans faced in this country and to do something about it. He turned his words into actions when he ventured south to face these oppressors. He was a part of the group that began the march to Selma, only to turn back when violence faced them.

That same night,  a group of ministers went out to dinner at a place called Walker’s, one of the few racially integrated restaurants in the area. While others departed by car after dinner, Reeb and two other Unitarian  ministers, Orloff Miller and Clark Olsen, left on foot. The three headed, side by side, to the chapel where Dr. King was to speak. James Reeb walked on the outside, nearest the street. They had not gone far when four or five white men came at them from across the street. Frightened, the three walked faster. They realized one of the men had a stick. When the attackers reached the three ministers, one swung his heavy stick and smashed the side of James Reeb’s head. Miller and Olsen were beaten and kicked on the sidewalk. When the attack was over, it was clear that Reeb was seriously hurt.

They called an ambulance, but because the driver of that ambulance was black, the police refused to help Reeb and it took several hours before he went into surgery. He would die on March 11, 1965.

The death of James Reeb caused nation-wide outcry over the violence in Selma. President Lyndon B. Johnson immediately sent the Civil Right’s Act to the Congress floor. Reeb’s sacrifice shed a light on the brutality which opposed the basic liberties that African Americans were fighting for. Dr. King, instead of appearing for the signing of the Civil Rights Act, went to Reeb’s funeral and gave a moving eulogy for the minister who gave up everything for the liberty of his fellow man.

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Martin Luther King Jr. & The Sound of Freedom closes with performances Saturday and Sunday at 1:00 PM. Get your tickets now and come see this important and moving play. 





Jahi Kearse plays Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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Company Member Jahi Kearse returns to the B Street Theatre to make his debut in the Family Series as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Martin Luther King Jr. and The Sound of Freedom. Kearse met with Artistic Associate Sean Patrick Nill to discuss the play and his close relationship with the B Street Theatre.

What is MLK & The Sound of Freedom about?

MLK & The Sound Of Freedom is a show that illustrates the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement. It isn’t just about Martin Luther King Jr, but it is rather about the people and moments that inspired Dr. King and many others who answered the call to help usher the United States into a more inclusive way of existence during a troubled time.

Why is this an important story for kids?

This show is very important to kids because it shows just how powerful young people can be when they come together, in the hopes of challenging unjust circumstances & changing the hearts and minds of the world they are a part of.

How does putting this story in a theatrical experience emphasize the important lessons of the Civil Rights Movement?

Theater is an art form that helps us all remember how powerful human connection is in a time where virtual conversations and communications are at an all time high, we are reminded that we can all reach out to one another in real life! Person to person, face to face, hand in hand!

This is your debut in B Street Theatre’s Family Series. What makes you excited to do theatre for children?

This is my debut in the Family Series!!! YAAAAAY!!!!! Theatre for young audiences excites me because, I began my theater career in children’s theater. I have seen for many years how much of an impact this art form can be for young audiences! Young people soak in theater like it’s air!

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You’re about to perform in the Broadway production Ain’t Too Proud. With everything going on in your life, why do you make it a point to return to the B Street Theatre?

First off, B Street is my family! I am such a fan of the bravery, energy, passion, and joy in which B Street Theatre dives in to each and every show! That is what I look for in my theatrical work. I have worked very hard for a long time to be a part of work that matters to both me and the world and my upcoming Broadway show, Aint Too Proud… The Life & Times of The Temptations is in the same spirit of all the shows I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in here at B Street!

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What’s a story from Sound of Freedom that you did not know about before you went into rehearsal?

I was unaware of just how many young people were deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement. So many young people made a stance at a time when they honestly could have been, and maybe should have been, deathly afraid for their own safety. I hope to be remembered as a man who was even nearly as brave as they were.

You play Martin Luther King Jr in the play. What are some of your favorite MLK quotes?

I have a lot.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

“Free at last, Free at last, Thank God almighty we are free at last.”

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Come see Jahi in Martin Luther King Jr. & The Sound of Freedom, which opens this Saturday to the public. 

The Creation of B Street Theatre’s “House on Haunted Hill”


When we announced our 2019 season in June of last year, among the exciting titles like Fun Home and A Doll’s House Part 2 was another familiar title with a vague playwright attached. Below House on Haunted Hill it simply read, “B Street Company.” With the play set to open Friday, it’s time we reveal some of the secrets to this premiere production based on a classic Vincent Price horror film from 1959. The following is an interview with Artistic Producer, playwright, and actor Dave Pierini on the process behind this new work.

Dave, when did B Street Theatre decide to produce our own adaptation of House on Haunted Hill?

Last summer, when we were putting together the 2019 Season, we had selected six out of the seven plays we would produce, but couldn’t find the right play to start off the season right. So, Buck, Jerry and I began talking about stories in which we could adapt in the fashion of Around the World in 80 Days and The 39 Steps, fun theatrical adaptations of beloved stories, that our company of actors always performs well. So we began looking at pieces of literature and discussed some titles, and nothing was clicking. And then one day, I looked up movies that were in the public domain, and House on Haunted Hill was on that list. I mentioned it to Buck, and he pointed to it and said “I remember this movie. I watched this as a kid. It scared the hell out of me. We should adapt this.”

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How long did it take for the play to get written?

Well, I initially started around late June, early July of 2018, when we made the initial decision. I just watched the movie over and over again, and had found the original screenplay and looked to that for inspiration. The first draft took me about two months.

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How much does this adaptation take away from the original script and how much does of the story is new?

The basic story of the movie is still there. I mean, why mess with that? What we wanted to do with this adaptation is make it wildly entertaining while staying loyal to the original film. You can’t put—what Buck likes to call—the murderers row of comedy actors on our stage and do a straight-up adaptation. Our audiences want us to enhance the humor and enlarge the story. My job as the playwright was to provide a canvas for Buck to create all the creative bits and ideas which he is prone to do. We enlarged some of the personality traits of the character, and I limited the amount of locations. My job was to make a clear, simple story so that Buck could easily add his own creativity to the story.

How has it been like to be the playwright and also one of the actors in the play?

I don’t recommend it. It’s hard, because, in rehearsal, I’m constantly listening and thinking about the script, when I’m supposed to be focused on acting. That’s difficult. The fun thing is when stage management gives me a line note, I can just tell them, “Oh no, that’s a rewrite.”


What’s this play gonna be like for our audiences?

They can expect a classic B Street comedy; similar to Around the World in 80 Days, The 39 Steps, Big Bang, the comedies that made B Street Theatre so popular in this area. A big grand story, with some incredible comedic talent onstage. And I hope they’re a little scared.

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B Street Theatre’s House on Haunted Hill opens Friday January 11 and runs until February 17. Come see Dave Pierini, along with Tara Sissom, Amy Kelly, Greg Alexander, Elisabeth Nunziato, John Lamb, and Jason Kuykendall in this hysterical adaptation of the classic 1959 horror film.