A play underscoring civil rights hero Rosa Parks is headed for Dover.
“Walk On: The Story of Rosa Parks” is a theatrical experience using acting and songs highlighting the path Parks took to becoming a world-renowned freedom fighter.
Parks, a black woman, refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus on Dec. 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Ala. The incident spurred the civil rights movement.
“The Story of Rosa Parks,” presented by Mad River Theater Works in Ohio, will be told at the Schwartz Center for the Arts on Feb. 26.
“I think there's a lot in this play people find out, especially if you hadn't done your own research [on Parks],” said actress Najwa Parkins, portraying the civil rights icon.
One of the common misconceptions about Parks is she was an elderly woman at the time she decided not to give up her seat.
“I think the media kind of spins her as a little old woman who was tired. I think that's the image a lot of people have of her,” Parkins said. “But she was in her early 40s when that happened.”
Additionally, Parks wasn't weary when she rode the bus on Dec.1.
“She was deliberate in what she did. She was emotionally tired of being treated the way she was, but not physically tired,” Parkins explained.
'I Feel Like Walking'
One of the tunes composer Bob Lucas wrote for the show is “Today I Feel Like Walking.” It addresses the Montgomery Bus Boycott sparked from Parks' bold stance.
“Today I feel like walking. The children will be free. And the unborn generations won't have to walk like me,” the lyrics read. “I plan to get this walking done before I'm old and dead. Today I heard freedom calling, walk on is what it said.”
'Welcome to the Party'
“The Story of Rosa Parks” features five actors, with several assuming multiple roles. Other characters include grouchy white people who give Parks a hard time.
There's also E.D. Nixon, a civil rights leader who helped to initiate the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In the song “Welcome to the Party,” Nixon teaches Parks the way of the world.
“She was extremely serious about everything,” Lucas said. “He was telling her if you're going to exist in the world, you have to learn how to relax. Because if you don't, you won't know how to take a punch.”
Sydney Arzt, interim executive director for the Schwartz, said using tunes in the show makes Parks' story more captivating.
“The idea behind this particular show is to be able to take a really serious subject line, which is the power of the determination of one person, in this case an African American woman, to change the course of events,” Arzt said.
“The best way to do that was not to only incorporate the storyline, but also music,” she said. “Music communicates in a way that words alone do not.”
Show's theme 'still relevant'
Playwright Jeff Hooper and Lucas collaborated on “The Story of Rosa Parks.” Wanting permission to build a show around the civil rights activist, Lucas and Hooper reached out to her.
“This play was written in 2005, just as Rosa was passing away,” Lucas said. “We wrote a letter to her for permission to write the play. It was answered by one of her children. We revere her so much. We're so thankful to her.”
The theme of the show is still relevant today, Parkins says.
“We think of the struggle for civil rights as something that happened long ago, but it's not that far in our past. And it's not over.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT 'Walk On: The Story of Rosa Parks,' presented by Mad River Theater Works
WHEN 7 p.m., Feb. 26
WHERE Schwartz Center for the Arts, 226 S. State St., Dover
COST $10 to $20
INFO Visit schwartzcenter.com or call 678-5152