The vehicle for this national commemoration is a staged reading of the new play “Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963” by Christina Ham, which examines the realities of a segregated, politically-charged climate through the life of a child during these extreme circumstances to end racial discrimination and inequality. It’s an emotional look at what every child imagines they want when they grow up, and dares to examine what it is like to be a child in the most extreme conditions of their everyday life.
This nationwide, simultaneous broadcast of the staged reading was initiated and coordinated by Project 1 Voice to commemorate this seminal event in American history, which helped to galvanize the American civil rights movement only weeks after the historic March on Washington when Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. The staged readings are either locally produced or utilize a live feed of a professional staged reading from the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, which is the option The Ritz decided on for its participation at this Sunday’s 5 p.m. presentation.
“What a distinct honor for The Ritz to participate in this important national initiative, and especially to have the opportunity to share with our local audiences the prestigious Kennedy Center’s professional staged reading, directed by the amazingly talented Phylicia Rashad,” said Ritz Executive Director George Culver. “It promises to be a powerful and reflective educational experience for everyone in attendance.”
The four little girls – Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley – who attend the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham share their hopes and dreams about “what they want to be when they grow up,” against the backdrop of the Civil Right Movement.
While Denise dreams to become a doctor, Carole looks forward to the dress she will one day wear at the cotillion, Cynthia imagines her life as a mathematics professor at the local university, and Addie Mae envisions a life as a professional baseball player. Yet each child’s dreams abruptly end with a world-changing act of hatred on the fateful day of Sept. 15, 1963. This immediate and historical moment sparks a turning point that helps draw national attention to the hard-fought, often dangerous struggle for civil rights for African Americans – exactly the opposite of what its perpetrators intend.
Playwright Christina Ham has had plays developed both nationally and internationally at theatres such as Center Theatre, The Goodman Theatre, The Guthrie Theatre and Ensemble Studio Theatre among others. Her feature-length screenplay, “Booker,” was a finalist for Tribeca Film Institute’s All Access program. She is a graduate of USC and holds a master’s degree in playwriting from UCLA’s School of Theatre.
Director and actor Phylicia Rashad made her directorial debut at the helm of Seattle Repertory’s production of August Wilson’s “Gen of the Ocean.” Her Broadway credits include “August: Osage County,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “Gem of the Ocean” (Tony nomination), “A Raisin in the Sun” (Tony Award Best Actress), “Dream Girls,” and “The Wiz.” She received an Emmy nominate for “A Raisin in the Sun,” and is best known and beloved by American television audiences for her role as Claire Huxtable on “The Cosby Show.”
Project 1 Voice is a nonprofit performing arts service organization founded to nurture, promote, strengthen and preserve the legacy and tradition of African American theatre and playwrights. Established in response to the severe economic downturn of 2008 that had a profoundly devastating impact upon African American theatres across the country, Project 1 Voice focuses on providing solutions for sustainability and long-term institutional growth with programs that educate, enlighten and entertain.
Admission to the event is $5.