An entire year of protests, a governor on the fence about right and wrong, and nine black honor students at the center of it all. This original play, "Little Rock: Our Dreams. Our Goals. Their Story," written and directed by junior theatre arts major Tony Mullins of Charlotte, will open with a 7 p.m. curtain on Thursday, Feb. 19 in Hedrick Little Theatre at Catawba College.
The production is among the activities planned by Catawba College's Diversity Club in celebration of Black History Month. For Mullins, who has written several plays and musical programs while a student at Catawba, "Little Rock" is but another creative endeavor which he wrote, directed and performs in. It is based on a true story from the late 1950s about nine black students who attend one of the first desegregated high schools in the United States. During the play, several of these nine students are profiled. One of them, Ernest Green, played by Mullins, actually graduates from that high school. The play concludes with the other students still pursuing their high school diplomas in a setting of conflict.
"I felt like "Little Rock" was a very important story that more people should know about but don't. Theatre is a perfect medium to draw people out and to get them to think about important issues. That's what we hope to accomplish," Mullins explained.
He called the production a "true collaboration" and complimented his company (fellow cast and crew members) for their willingness to accept the responsibility for telling the story. "This is an important story not just to the black community but for everyone. It's everyone's story. Even though the central attention is on the Little Rock nine it's a collective study of how everyone who lived through the story responds to it. There are white students, parents, and faculty members, all of whom have different outlooks or opinions about what's going on. It's not just one dimensional on anybody's part."
Cast members in addition to Mullins include the following Catawba College students: Cydney Johnson of Goldsboro as Minnijean Brown; Elizabeth Foye of LaGrange as Elizabeth Eckford; Kosha Hasty of Charlotte as Thelma Mothershed; Ashley Wheeler of Charlotte as Melba Pattillo; Kashara Davis of Charlotte as Carlotta Walls; Shawn Bridgewater of Sag Harbor, N.Y., as Jefferson Thomas/Marcus/Scott Green; Yolanda Kay McClure of Eden as Daisy Bates/Lothaire Green; Kendrick Mayes of Fayetteville as Reverend Lawson/Grandfather; Jaylin Chrystal of Greensboro (a student at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College) as Hazel Bryant; Brandon Cuthrell of Durham as Davie; Phillip Russ of Casar as Mitchell; Valerie Léon of Newington, Conn. as Mrs. Gaines/Hazel's mother; Christopher Haney of Denver as Mr. Loomis/Man in Suit; Michael Procton of High Point as Governor Faubus/Principal Williams; Annabelle Prince of Charlotte as Lilly; Jered Shults of Sevierville, Tenn., as News Reporter; Camee Forrest of Lexington as Mrs. Miller; Zach McRae of Hendersonville as Gregory; and Quinn McRae of Hendersonville as Adam.
Crew members include Patricia Adkins of Summerfield, stage manager; Shannon Kennedy of Atlanta, Ga., as assistant stage manager; Courtney Forrest of Lexington, prop master; Allen Jones of Greensboro, technical director; Miranda Smith of Salisbury, lighting designer; and Josh Hodgson of High Point, master electrician.
"Little Rock" is not Mullins' first endeavor at Catawba. His first was, "One Night Only," a musical review which was a collection of African-American show tunes and gospel songs. It was performed in 2007 in Hedrick Little Theatre on campus and brought together numerous student talents in a collaboration. Another Mullins' effort was a play by the same name, "One Night Only." He described it as a study in contemporary diversity and how the lack thereof could dramatically change a particular outcome. This play with music was produced on campus in 2008 in Hedrick Little Theatre as part of the offerings for Black History Month.
Although still a student, Mullins owns his own theatrical production company, Evening Star Productions. After graduation, he hopes to take the knowledge gained at Catawba during his studies and use it to strengthen his company and make it, he said, "a little more mainstream – bring it to the forefront within the theatre community."
Other performance dates and times for "Little Rock" include 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 20; and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 21. An open discussion with cast, crew, faculty and students will immediately follow each performance. The play is free and open to the public, but because seating in the theatre is limited, reservations are encouraged and can be made via e-mail by contacting Chris Young at firstname.lastname@example.org.