Theater honors King’s legacy with production

by Kelly Hildebrandt

On Apr. 5, 1968, Warren Bowles was a sophomore in college traveling in Italy. He picked up a newspaper and, from the little Italian he knew, made out the headline: “Dr. King assassinated, Civil War in U.S.”
Saturday marked the 30th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. King, a civil rights activist during the 1950s and 60s, was assassinated while speaking from the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. Cafe owner James Earl Ray was charged with the assassination and is currently serving a life sentence.
In memory of the event, The Mixed Blood Theater Company on the West Bank performed the play “Dr. King’s Dream.”
Bowles, an alumnus of the University’s Department of Theater Arts and Dance, performs the one-man traveling play.
“We felt betrayed,” Bowles said of King’s death. Bowles said that he contemplated whether or not he wanted return to the United States where such an event could happen.
Peppered with excerpts from King’s speeches, Bowles led the audience through the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott in the mid-1950s to his assassination on Apr. 4, 1968.
“We created the play, but 90 percent of it is his words,” said producer Jack Reuler. “It begins and ends on this day.”
At the end of the play, King walks onto the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel. While King yells to friends down below, a piercing shot rings out and the crowd in the audience jumps from the play’s inevitable end.
Bowles said playing the role of King is sometimes very intimidating. He said though King’s cause is still relevant today, his message is slowly being lost.
“The play was a beautiful play about his dream, and it should live on,” said Barbara Ingram, who was attending the play with Girl Scout Troop 2245. The troop was there to earn their Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. badge.
“I was really devastated,” Ingram said of King’s assassination. She was 20 years old when King was assassinated.
“Dr. King’s Dream” has been performed in schools for the last 18 years and is one of eight cultural plays from The Mixed Blood Theater that travel around the country. Bowles has been playing the role of King since the play’s beginning.
Reuler said Mixed Blood tours to schools in hopes to “link kids, schools and Mixed Blood together.”
“A lot of times it’s very eye-opening,” Bowles said about students’ reactions to the play.
Schools don’t cover the civil rights movement very thoroughly, Bowles said, recalling a story of a senior in high school who approached him after the play.
He said she was angry because the play made her realize that all she knew about the civil rights movement was King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Rosa Parks. Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white woman in Montgomery, Ala., sparking a bus boycott and ultimately the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.
Reuler said The Mixed Blood Theater Company was dedicated to the memory of King, adding that anything they do about him is special to the theater.
Also, about 100 people marched to the State Capitol on Saturday in memory of King’s assassination.