A $10,000 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Challenge America grant will help support a collaboration between Wake Forest University and Loire Valley Theater Festival, Inc. (LVTF) to bring the civil rights musical drama, “Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom,” to Wake Forest University in October 2023.
“Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom” is based on the award-winning memoir by Lynda Blackmon Lowery. The play tells the story of the young people in Selma, Alabama, who risked their lives in 1965 to win the right to vote for African Americans.
Jailed nine times before the march and badly beaten on Bloody Sunday, Lynda Blackmon and her neighbors fought alongside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to secure the right to vote for African Americans. She believed that “a voteless people is a hopeless people,” and put her life on the line, non-violently, to prove that anyone can change history no matter how young or powerless they seem.
The show will feature an ensemble of actor-singers who bring the 1960s to life on the stage through the music of the Civil Rights Movement. The play will be held on Wake Forest University’s Tedford Stage and directed by Jackie Alexander, artistic director of the North Carolina Black Repertory Theatre in Winston-Salem.
Joshuah Brian Campbell, director of music and arts at the Wake Forest School of Divinity and director of the University Gospel Choir and Miranda Barry, producer and founder of Loire Valley Theater Festival collaborated on the NEA proposal awarded to LVTF to produce a new version of the play with a community-based choir. Campbell is the music director for the production.
“By shining a light on racial justice giants like Lynda Blackmon Lowery, theatre can become a powerful truth-telling agent and community connector,” said Wake Forest’s Vice Provost for the Arts and Interdisciplinary Initiatives Christina Soriano. “We are excited to collaborate with LVTF and grateful to the NEA for recognizing the importance of this work and providing the financial support to help make our collaborative project possible.”
Led by Wake Forest’s Department of Theatre and Dance and in collaboration with the University’s School of Divinity and the Loire Valley Theatre Festival, workshops with actors and chorus members from Wake Forest and surrounding universities will be invited to join the community in the retelling of the story of Selma.
While the performance will be open to all, the intended audience is young people and people of color who have limited access to the arts. As part of the event, Lowery plans to visit Wake Forest to speak to students and community members.
Challenge America offers support for projects in all artistic disciplines that extend the reach of the arts to populations that are underserved.
“The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support arts projects in communities nationwide,” said NEA Chair Maria Rosario Jackson. “Projects such as this one strengthen arts and cultural ecosystems, provide equitable opportunities for arts participation and practice, and contribute to the health of our communities and our economy.”
This grant is one of 262 Challenge America awards totaling $2.62 million that were announced by the NEA as part of its first round of fiscal year 2023 grants. For more information on other projects included in the NEA’s grant announcement, visit arts.gov/news.
The Loire Valley Theater Festival (LVTF) was founded by Miranda Barry in 2004 to produce theater programs that promote cross-cultural engagement, mutual respect and understanding. LVTF’s goal is to help young people develop an understanding of people who come from different times, places or backgrounds, while offering a platform to explore issues that have deep meaning in their own lives.