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Kaleidoscope Series presents Rosa Parks play to children for MLK Day

Theatre Writer

Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013

Updated: Thursday, January 31, 2013 12:01



Mayor of Detroit, Mich., Coleman Young, right, holds up Rosa Park’s hand at a rally in 1981. Parks became a civil rights movement icon when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in 1955. Parks’s life has been made into a musical, “Walk On: The Rosa Parks Story,” which was presented to children as part of the Kaleidoscope Series last week.

In Montgomery, Ala., Dec. 1, 1955 started out as an ordinary day.

That is, until a tired Rosa Parks refused to give her bus seat up for a white man, an offense for which she was arrested.

Charged for violating segregation laws, her arrest sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the largest social movements of the 20th century. The rest is history.

“Walk On: The Rosa Parks Story,” a musical about Parks’ life from her childhood to her historic Dec. 1 decision,  was presented by Mad River Theater last week as a part of the Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations.

The seven actors sang and danced to gospel and blues music, relating the important events of Parks’s life to their audience of young students.

Micki Stonewall, an elementary teacher at South Tama County School District, said, “I think that made it more meaningful to our students to connect their prior knowledge of segregation to seeing real people being treated unfairly.”

Aside from the unfair treatment of others, many subjects stressed in school classrooms were covered.

Bullying, working hard, courage and the importance of an education were recurring themes in “Walk On.”

The musical numbers, which incorporated these themes, had the children clapping, tapping, moving, singing and shuffling to the music.

“There is such a variety of learning styles amongst all students,” said Stonewall. “Seeing a live performance just might be that one event that connects with a learner.”

Unlike a traditional classroom, the Kaledoscope Series, housed in the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing Arts Center, offers children the opportunity to learn from and experience a staged play, musical, opera, dance or other performing arts medium.

“I personally love seeing how excited students are when they (go) to each show and hearing what their favorite parts of the show are as they leave,” said Anna Zimney, a student educator at Gallagher-Bluedorn. Zimney, along with ushers, stagehands, teachers, chaperones, bus drivers and sponsors, works to make all Kaleidoscope shows a reality for their audience.

At $1  a seat, Kaleidoscope’s “Buck A Kid” program offers children and school districts a unique opportunity at an inexpensive rate.

“As a teacher from a school with such a high poverty level, the thing I’m always blown away with is seeing students’ reactions as they experience something they have never seen before,” said Stonewall. “Many of these kids have never been to a city and have definitely never been to a play.”

Along with Stonewall’s fourth-grade students, up to 1,500 additional students from districts across the state were given the opportunity to be on the other side of history, momentarily walking the steps of Parks and other African-Americans of her time.

“Walk On: The Rosa Parks Story” transformed the African-American Civil Rights Movement from pictures and words in a textbook to a visceral, life-like reality. Parks was no longer a hero only on the printed page, but a hero in the flesh.


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