by Mike Wiley, playwright and director of The Parchman Hour
“We few, we happy few. We band of brothers. For he who sheds his blood with me today shall be my brother…”
Words so elequently written by William Shakespeare for the theatre and so bravely echoed by the Freedom Riders for the “beloved community” and “the redeemed America“. Men and women, white and black from across America. Students mostly. Heroes, all. In the fall of 2010 at the dawn of the 50th anniversary of those bloody Freedom Rides, students from UNC, Duke, Chapel Hill High School, and NC State once again took up the mantle of those heroic happy few. Tirelessly researching and rehearsing what would become a workshop production and tour of The Parchman Hour. A tour which carried students that had never been out of the Carolinas into the Mississippi Delta, Parchman Prison and beyond.
Young adult actors who were merely seeking the glow of the footlights for themselves became bright channel markers for their generation.
Our time in Mississippi was the culmination of hard work and preparation; yes, but it was more so the culmination of transformation.
A cast of what was once a shy group of babes, who knew very little about the Freedom Rides, arose from wobbly to strong legs with arms outstretched grasping for truths. Truths they’d never been told. Truths they never knew to ask.
Theatre that is vital, that is necessary digs for the truth. Theatre that is healing. Theatre that reconciles. Theatre that is intravenous screams for the truth. And that truth can transform. Transform a person, an audience, as well as communities. The student production had been given a gift. A gift to share their talents, their experience, their knowledge, and most importantly their hope. I saw in my student troupe, everything a director, teacher, or parent could ask for and that was simply and wonderfully a new generation of possibility.