High-school production to benefit Ferguson


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Amid the aftermath of chaos in Ferguson, Missouri, a group of City High students have come together to help via the stage.

City High will donate a portion of the proceeds from its fall play to Ferguson high-school theater departments. The funds will help send students to the Missouri Thespian Festival in January.

City High’s Drama Department opened the award-winning drama The Diviners on Thursday. There will be two more performances at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday in City High’s Opstad Auditorium, 1900 Morningside Drive.

“It is important for these honest race discussions to continue,” City High drama director Troy Peters said. “And the performing-arts arena is a great place for this to happen.”

The department’s goal is to try to raise $1,200 to send two high-school thespians to the festival.
Peters said his original fundraising goal was $600, but now the department will try to raise double that amount by the conclusion of Saturday’s final performance.

The department will raise the money through ticket sales and donations from the public.

In an online theater-educator discussion group, Peters said he came across the Ferguson-Florrisant School District Fine Arts Coordinator Doug Erwin looking for theater ideas that may be able to help “heal the wounds of the community after the tumultuous summer.”

“[Erwin] mentioned that he struggles to get their African-American students to the state thespian conference,” Peters said. “And that they feel like ‘raisins in the rice’ when they attend these mainly white events.”

Peters said Erwin, who is also the director of speech and theater at McCluer High in Ferguson, as well as the thespian troupe sponsor, was concerned because he recognizes the high value for his students to continue to have a voice in the arts arena.

“So I offered to help them out and get at least one student to the conference,” Peters said. “And that’s how the ball started rolling.”

Erwin said it’s also important for Ferguson students to attend the state festival because it exposes them to college representatives from more than 30 schools.

“This exposure enables many students to attend college who would not normally,” he said.

Erwin said the high school is limited to sending 20 students to the festival, and in his ideal world, he would fill each of those spots.

“Traditionally, the state conference is not representative of the diversity of the state,” Erwin said. “When African-American students attend, they tend to stand out and are forced to be representatives for their race.”

Which is a lot of pressure to put on a 15-year-old, he said.

“My goal would be for them to see the diversity among different programs and connect with other high-school students who have different backgrounds,” Erwin said.

University of Iowa junior Frankie Rose has helped put The Diviners together, including assisting with rehearsals, running warm-ups, and helping with specific scene work, brush-ups, and speed-through readings of the show.

Rose, who attended the Illinois High School Thespian Festival when he was in high school, said it is a weekend-long celebration of theater and is beneficial to students.

“The thespian festival gives students the opportunity to participate and learn more about the art of theater from more than just your school’s theater director,” he said. “This experience was invaluable to me when I was in high school.”

Rose said he is proud of City High’s production and is glad the proceeds are going toward aiding theater in Ferguson.

“As with anyone who is fortunate enough to do well in the world, I believe it is important to share the wealth with the less-fortunate whenever possible,” he said.

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