By Tara Bennett
Civil Rights history will come to life onstage at the Manship Theatre in honor of the anniversary performance of “The Fading Line: A Commemoration of the 1953 Baton Rouge Bus Boycott,” which is considered as the event that set the precedent for the Civil Rights movement.
The historic boycott is known as the first black boycott in the country, having preceded well-known events in Civil Rights history, including the boycotts in Montgomery and Selma as well as Rosa Parks’ stand. According to the African American Registry, black leaders in Baton Rouge organized a peaceful protest, and were successful in having the City Council pass Ordinance 222, which permitted black citizens of Baton Rouge to be seated on a first-come-first-served basis on city buses.
“In fact, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference came to Baton Rouge after the successful nine-day boycott to use it as a model for those later boycotts,” said the show’s creator and project director Renee Chatelain. “The event also preceded Brown v. Board of Education and significant legislation.”
The first public performance of “Fading Line” was held at the Manship Theatre three weeks after the theatre opened in 2005. According to Chatelain, the Manship Theatre saw the boycott as an important event in Baton Rouge community history, and was significant to bring back as part of the theatre’s 10th anniversary. The performance will be held on March 17-18 at the Manship Theatre at 7:30 p.m.
As a multi-media performance, “Fading Line” will include film, photography, recorded interviews, along with dance, monologues, and live music, all of which will re-tell the events of the boycott to shed light on the issues that still surround us today in regards to prejudice. A preview performance was performed at the West Baton Rouge Museum during February in honor of Black History Month.
“The West Baton Rouge Museum performance was very successful and well attended,” said Chatelain. “The museum does a wonderful job in creating awareness of and celebrating local history. We were proud to play a role.”
Over 30 members make up the cast, including members of Mid City Dance Project and New Venture Theatre. According to Chatelain, this work will serve as a legacy piece, as many of the cast members have grandparents who participated in the boycott, and several actors from the very first production will be returning.
“We even have one cast member, Celena Noel, who was in the original production, and now lives in Washington D.C.,” said Chatelain. “She took vacation time from her job at IBM to participate in the show. It was very touching for me to have her feel so connected to the show.”
According to Chatelain, the first iteration of “Fading Line” consisted of dance and video, but the anniversary performance has grown to include photographs, interviews, and monologues, similar to the style of theatre shows such as “The Laramie Project.”
“The biggest addition is creating a script and live music, thanks to Greg Williams, Jr. of New Venture Theatre,” said Chatelain. “He and I both really love this story and have worked together to bring this show to a new level…with Greg actually acting in the show, we have a whole new dimension.”
The performance touches on race relations in Baton Rouge then and now. It also addresses related issues of discrimination in other forms and celebrates the participants of the boycott as heroes of the local Civil Rights movement.
“I hope that the event brings an enlightenment and greater sense of pride for our city and its history,” said Chatelain. “I know that creating this work was life changing for me, and I hope that the people who attend the performance will leave with a greater understanding about our city, about race, and about acceptance.”
Tickets are on sale at Manship Theatre. For more information visit manshiptheatre.org or call 225-344-0334.