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Halifax County Little Theatre to present Four Little Girls:  Birmingham 1963

South Boston News / January 25, 2016
It was an American tragedy: four young girls killed when a bomb was planted in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. The repercussions of that event were far-reaching in the nation’s troubled times regarding Civil Rights. Martin Luther King Jr., who had recently given his ‘I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, gave the eulogy for the four girls at their funeral. John Kennedy himself was assassinated just a few months later, and the perpetrators of the church bombing were not held accountable for many years.

Yet throughout the years since the bombing, the four girls killed are frequently merely referred to as just the “four little girls.” Their names have been erased from people’s memories. It is with that thought in mind that the play “Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963” was written by Christina Ham, who wanted to honor the four girls and bring their names to life, and Halifax County Little Theatre is hoping to honor the movement and the girls by their production of the show, which will run the last two weeks in February.

Director Becky Donner and a cast of 28 are working to recreate the time period and the lives of these girls and others from Birmingham of that year. Musical Director Andre Williamson is teaching the music of the time, both gospel hymns and mainstream church hymns, along with the Negro National Anthem. Both the music and the story are daily history lessons for many of the young cast members, who have never grown up with the strict rules of segregation that Birmingham – or Bombingham, as it was known sarcastically - had back then.

Donner says, “It is a privilege to work with this story that honors the girls: Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins. I was the age of the youngest of these girls, 11, when the actual bombing occurred. As a teacher of 11th grade literature for most of my teaching career, I taught some of the stories and poems of the period, which always touched me deeply. When I became aware of this play, I knew it was something that I wanted to bring to our community.”

Donner looked for help from the community to find the right four girls to bring this story to life, and she found them in Tkeira Stokes (Denise McNair), Amaya Mitchell (Cynthia Wesley), Ireanna Sydnor (Carole Robertson), and Kimberly Lipscomb (Addie Mae Collins). Denise McNair was 11 at the time, and the other three girls were fourteen, when they were killed.

There are two other parts to the dramatic version of the story: an adult ensemble that helps tell the story and becomes many different characters of the time, and a children’s ensemble, that portrays both classmates of these girls as well as other white children of the time period.

The adult ensemble consists of Shirley Crawley, Timothy Coleman, Sharron Garrett, Stephanie Green, Gladdy Hampton, Tamela Owen, Shonda Powell, Maurice Terry, and Erin Thackston. Donner says, “I am so blessed to have these gifted and experienced adults to help tell the story, both in song and in their acting abilities. I taught two of them, Shirley and Maurice, and it is so wonderful to be reconnected with them. I have known Sharron, Gladdy, Timothy, Stephanie, and Erin through HCLT and Prizery events, and they are so talented, and it is a blessing to have their abilities and input. Shonda and Tamela are new to me, and what wonderful additions they are! Both of their voices add so much to the production.”

The children’s ensemble consists of two parts: the white children of the period and the black children of the 60’s. Donner says, “The white children in the cast have a hard role to play. They have to play children who might not be so accepting of children of a different race, because that is the way many children of the period were raised. I really admire these students who are helping us to tell the story of what it was like 50 years ago. They feel awkward at times, portraying children who are not accepting of others, and they are doing a great job tackling these difficult roles.”

These roles are portrayed by Hannah Bush, Ryan Crawford, Ainsley Gasperini, Aaron Hendricks, Andrew Hansen, Amelie Martin, and Courtland Thackston. They portray children in Birmingham during the early 60’s who went to different schools than the four main characters.

The black children’s ensemble is portrayed by Mark Betts, Jada Carr, Nia Hayes, Sydni Jennings, Kamya Minor, Ma’Kiya Palmer, Demetria Owen, and Tamya Walker. These children portray friends or classmates of the four main characters. Donner says, “They, too, are learning the history and music of the period and the sacrifices and difficulties these students might have encountered. I am pleased to get to work with these talented children.”

LaTonya Sadler is the production’s producer for Little Theatre, Sharon Brogden is the stage manager, and Vicky Thomasson is creating costumes of the period. Donner says, “Everyone talks about how it takes a ‘village to raise a child.’ In Little Theatre, it is a theatre village that brings a show to life.”

“We have set builders and painters, article writers, props gatherers, and so many people who help to create the whole. I am deeply indebted to them. People sell tickets, pass out posters, gather appropriate props, and make the lights shine. My good friend Chris Elliott is working with the lighting, Little Theatre President Sandy Slayton is creating the visual images of the time period that run throughout the production, and my husband Greg is in charge of the set. And there are so many others, also. Again, it takes a Halifax County village to bring this show to life.”

The show opens Feb. 19 and runs that weekend and Thursday through Sunday the next weekend, completing the run on Sunday, Feb. 28. Tickets are currently on sale at the Prizery at 434-572-8339 or . Prices are $12 for adults and $8 for students. Group sales get a one dollar reduction in the price for groups of 15 or more.

“There are so many people in the community who are helping to bring this show to life, and I really appreciate all their efforts. I really hope the community will support the production and the goal of honoring these four girls in particular, but also all people who worked and continue to work for equality for everyone,” Donner said.

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