The Missouri Historical Society is offering local teenagers the opportunity to get real-world work experience while creating free entertainment for patrons of the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. Through Teens Make History, a year-round, work-based apprenticeship program, area high school students get paid to create plays from start to finish, and in doing so, they learn general professional skills.
For this summer’s production, the teens chose to produce a play called “Solidarity and Civil Rights,” which is inspired by a photo of the League of Struggle for Negro Rights in the Panoramas of the City exhibit currently on display in the museum.
“They chose to tell a story that a lot of people don’t know about,” says Teen and Adult Interpretive Programs Coordinator Ellen Kuhn. “This civil rights organization was an affiliate of the Communist Party and worked for many causes, primarily anti-lynching. It only lasted about six years, but the students wanted to show that 1930 St. Louis was very different than today. … The interracial organization was a broad coalition and had a wide range of age groups.”
Although the students are Teen Actor Interpreters in the program, many of them wish to enter into careers in the criminal justice system. This desire is made evident by the play’s overarching theme that people of all races and ages must work together to overcome racial injustices.
“To demonstrate interracial solidarity, our idea was to show how they came together to fight inequality,” says Carlos Spann, a senior at Lift for Life Academy. “We did a teenage concept because teens had a big impact at the time and still can today. Our plays inspire people a lot. Many times, teenagers and adults get emotional when they see what we’re talking about. We focus on what happened then but show this is still an issue.”
By reminding audiences there are still many racial inequalities in the world, the teens illustrate the importance of taking action when facing these injustices.
“You’re never too young to help; you always have a voice,” says homeschooled senior Lissa Fanz. “In our society, children are raised without seeing color, but as we grow, children become aware of that. It’s important to show children everyone is equal, no matter the color. It’s not about the skin I’m in, but rather the words I’m speaking.”
“Solidarity and Civil Rights” is performed at 11 a.m. Thursdays and Fridays and 2 p.m. Saturdays through the end of July in the Lee Auditorium at the Missouri History Museum. For more information, visit mohistory.org. M