The Parchman Hour at Lee Street
April 14, 2016
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Earlier this week, Lee Street theater had its showing of the amazing production The Parchman Hour directed by Craig Kolkebeck. This incredibly powerful production was written by Catawba graduate Mike Wiley, he was a communications major who graduated in 1995, and went on to get his MFA(Masters of Fine Arts) from the University of North Carolina.
He then went on to develop one man shows where he plays a multitude of different characters. He once even did a whole show on Emmett Till starring him . . . yes, just him. The Parchman hour was based on the Freedom Riders, most of the story line was inspired by true events, using the names of actual Freedom Riders who were a part of the movement and were incarcerated in Parchman prison. While they were there, they were brutally beaten, starved, abused, and racially mistreated for standing up in something that they believed in.
This play touched base upon several subjects, the main ones being discrimination and racism. At the end of the play, slides were presented; one read “How Far Have We Really Come?” When I went to watch the play, it was student rush night; and that made even more of an impact. The reason I say that is because most of the people in the audience were around 18-21 years old, which was around the same ages of the Freedom Riders.
At the end of the show, the cast and crew wanted to have a “talk back” with the audience; this is where the actors talk one on one with the audience and get their feedback on the play. What would normally last ten minutes lasted almost thirty minutes. It was such a powerful discussion; some of the actors were almost in tears when they were giving their experiences.
My favorite part was when the director asked the audience; “How many of you, if given the opportunity to participate in the same exact movement would put yourself on the line, when you knew you would be facing beatings, prosecutions, and even death?” Out of 40 people, only two raised their hands. It was astounding to see how brave the Freedom Riders were; they joined this movement knowing what they were potentially signing up for, and they still stood up for what they believed in.
The following quote is from Mimi Real, one of the thirteen Freedom Riders.
“Did you know that at Parchman, to pass the time and to keep our spirits up, we ‘invented’ a radio program? I don’t recall that we named it, but ‘The Parchman Hour’ would have been a good name. Each cell had to contribute a short “act” (singing a song, telling a joke, reading from the Bible — the only book we were allowed) and in between acts we had ‘commercials’ for the products we lived with every day, like the prison soap, the black-and-white striped skirts, the awful food, etc. We did this every evening, as I recall; it gave us something to do during the day, thinking up our cell’s act for the evening.”
— Mimi Real, Freedom Rider, 1961