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BWW Blog: Freedom Summer

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It is kind of ironic to name this article "Freedom Summer," as we are all either confined at home (at least I am here in Brazil) or following safety guidelines to finally be free to social gather. But this Freedom Summer that you're going to read all about is a new musical written by, now Baldwin Wallace music theatre alumni, based in the events that took place in the summer of 1964.

SYNOPSIS:

"In the summer of 1964, civil rights workers from New York City join forces with grassroots activists in Meridian, Mississippi to fight for the right to vote. As they navigate racism, corruption, and violence in the Jim Crow south, they're forced to reckon with what it means to be an activist and the cost of rewriting history."

I could have written this article by myself, but who better than the creator to write about its project, right? But first, I would like to explain a few things before we get deep into it:

Baldwin Wallace has a 13-year partnership with Playhouse Square (the biggest performing arts center in America after the Lincoln Center in NY). Every year they produce, with the help of Arts Management seniors, a musical performed by BW's music theatre students. This specific project would have been the world premiere of Freedom Summer. The Arts Management group was split into Marketing, Operations, and Educational Outreach. I was part of the marketing team, in which we developed the show's visual identity, creating a new logo, a press release, and working alongside Playhouse's marketing department, we began to create social media materials for the show. The run was quickly sold out, so instead of selling tickets, our job was to build brand awareness. Unfortunately, during spring break, we got the news that we wouldn't be able to produce the show or even return to school due to the pandemic.

BWW Blog: Freedom Summer
Freedom Summer's poster.

Watch the promo video, filmed in February 2020, below!

Okay, enough of this talk, let's hear from Freedom Summer's creator Charlie H. Ray.

BACKSTORY:

The idea for Freedom Summer came to me in high school. We were learning about the lives of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney, and I thought to myself: certainly, someone has written about this story! The next day we watched the Academy Award winning film "Mississippi Burning." Oh, I thought, someone has done it. I could not have been more wrong. The film is essentially a cop drama, skirting over the intricate and valiant lives of the front-line Civil Rights workers at the center of the story. That day, roughly eight years ago, I vowed to tell that story from the perspective of the people who were far more interesting to me: not the police officers or the FBI, but the activists who risked their lives for justice.

I knew the idea was valuable and meaningful, so I did not want to get it wrong; however, I was fourteen years old, without a single clue how to write a musical! So I shelved the idea for a few years, writing other stories and songs as I gathered the expertise I needed to execute Freedom Summer correctly. When I got to BW, I met Sam Columbus, with whom I teamed up to tackle Freedom Summer. Together we crafted the score for the show. It was not until our acceptance to the 2019 New York Musical Festival that Sam and I discovered the two missing pieces of our team, Dana Iannuzzi (director) and Tavia Rivée. Once we united as a group of four, the journey of Freedom Summer gained clarity.

PLAYHOUSE PRODUCTION OPPORTUNITY:

Baldwin Wallace's relationship with Playhouse Square makes for a writer's dream scenario. The opportunity to launch into full production of a show only a year after its first public incarnation is very rare. As BW students, the Playhouse Square slot is such a coveted and respected part of our school year. To have graduated, in terms, of one side of the table to another, was both a terrifying and gratifying experience.

The Arts Management partnership is extremely valuable in this equation. As creators of a show with such humble beginnings, you are very often the CFO, the legal counsel, the social media manager, and the publicist all in one. To step into the well-oiled machine of BW Arts Management was a gift I had not expected. The relief of knowing that we had some of the best minds in marketing and theatre publicity working on our show (pro-bono, might I add!) gave the creative team time to focus on the piece itself.

COVID:

We were so looking forward to getting Freedom Summer up in front of a Cleveland audience. By our last rehearsal, before we adjourned for spring break (and though we didn't know it at the time, adjourned indefinitely), we had finished blocking the show. Getting the COVID-19 news and knowing that we were sitting on a completely finished product was gut-wrenching. However, since the beginning of both this virus and the long-overdue social upheaval in this country, I've been very resolved that we are being called to do things other than theatre in this global moment.

THE FUTURE OF FREEDOM SUMMER:

I think it is necessary first to assess this moment culturally. Luckily, all our producing partners and affiliated artists are hard-at-work to plan for this industry's return, and Freedom Summer can return at full force the moment the industry opens. However, it is my opinion that the duty of theatre has shifted dramatically. When I started writing Freedom Summer, there were well to do white theatergoers that only entered the space of social justice as "entertainment" for $300 a ticket. Black stories, queer stories, etc., did not reach these people except for 2.5 hours a few times a year when they had some cash to spend or attention to give. Nowadays, if you are not confronting and seeking out these issues via your phone as you sit on the couch during your free time, you are behind. Justice, liberation, and equality are no longer just "themes" for an evening of theatre. They are the neutral, the reality. I question how the show looks in that reality because-and thank God for this-the pearls of wisdom in Freedom Summer can now be found for $0.00 on Instagram live, Snapchat stories, Twitter, and Zoom seminars.



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