A Mad River Theater Works’ original production is set to take the Holland Theatre stage this weekend in the second run for the performance that explores the courageous actions of black and white individuals in the early 1960s who joined together to ride buses and challenge hateful segregation that divided the South.
Freedom Riders is presented at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the theater, prior to the Mad River Theater Works’ 20-state tour of the production that begins in January, MRTW managing director Chris Westhoff said.
One of the Freedom Riders who participated in this specific Civil Rights movement, Bernard Lafayette, now age 81, has collaborated with the producers on this recent refresh of the play, which was first presented in 2017.
Westhoff said Lafayette has engaged with MRTW representatives since the spring via regular Zoom calls with the Tuskeegee, Ala, resident. Learning from this Freedom Riders’ first-hand accounts has been eye-opening.
“He has helped us bring a whole new level of understanding to the production,” the managing director said. “We’ve done our research on this time period and have read through the history books, but it has been so helpful to gain his perspective and compassion for what the Freedom Riders at the time went through.”
During the 1961 Freedom Rides detailed in the performance, the organized efforts took place 15 years after the U.S. Supreme Court had outlawed segregation. However, bus lines and cities throughout the South still enforced a rigid system of separating black and white citizens.
At the time, Lafayette was a young college student and became a member of the Nashville Student Movement, a group that established leadership in the Freedom Riders and also effectively carried out other Civil Rights efforts at the time, including the Nashville sit-ins.
In the production, the role of Lafayette is played by Steven Rice. Other Freedom Riders include Diane Nash, played by Sheena O. Murray; Catherine, played by Evelyn LeTeshia; and Jim, played by Joe Troop.
A special assistant to the U.S. Attorney General, John Seigenthaler, is played by Raiford Faircloth. He works with the Freedom Riders to warn them and protect them from the predicted violence if they make their arrival in Montgomery, Ala.
The unforgettable heroes, and the facts behind the events portrayed in Freedom Riders are essential to a full understanding of the Civil Rights era and American history, Westhoff said.
“Freedom Riders demonstrates the importance of working together to affect change and specifically how non-violent protests were used to focus attention on the cruelties of segregation.”
The production is directed by Daniel Carlton of New York City, who also has joined in the Zoom calls this year throughout the pandemic. The stage manager is Brandon Osley
The Freedom Riders’ playwright is Jeff Hooper and composer is Bob Lucas. Faircloth also serves as a musician for the production
Mad River Theater Works received financial support for Freedom Riders from the Ohio Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Tickets are available at www.thehollandtheatre.org.