For two hours on Saturday, April 23rd, over 50 people gathered here at Near West Theatre for our COMMUNITY CONVERSATION: Race in America and Show Boat . Our afternoon began with an illuminating talk by Bill Rudman (Artistic Director of The Musical Theatre Project) about the production itself. He illustrated the unique voice of Show Boat and its place of significance in the world, playing snippets of the score as well as a short video clip of the classic "Ol' Man River," sung by legend Paul Robeson. Bill explained that not only was Show Boat the first piece of musical theater to blend typical musical comedy with a dramatic and complicated plot, but it was ALSO the first American musical to feature African American and Caucasian actors on stage together, and to clearly and honestly illustrate the iniquities between the two groups in the context of that time period (1887-1927). This content was especially remarkable because the show debuted in 1927!
The Conversation continued with an offering led by Bob Navis Jr, our Artistic Director and Director/Musical Director of Show Boat. We heard some testimonials from the cast, detailing their experiences thus far in rehearsing the show, what it means to them, and what feelings and questions have come up for them regarding race relations.
This sharing extended to the rest of our guests, guided by Cleveland Action Strategist and certified social justice mediator Indigo Bishop. She expertly guided the conversation as many spoke freely of their own definitions of race, their personal experiences with discrimination, and their questions about how to constructively engage in dialogue about racial issues.
Near West Theatre would like to thank all who participated in making it such a meaningful and successful Community Conversation! The afternoon was engaging, and full of useful information and the energy of our community activating around these sensitive, relevant issues. Moments like these teach us how important the art of theater is to bringing other times and cultures to life.
Stay tuned for our next Community Conversation, to be scheduled during rehearsals for Assassins this summer - you won't want to miss it!