'Ruby: The Story of Ruby Bridges'

Cast members of Halifax County Little Theatre’s production of “Ruby: The Story of Ruby Bridges” include (front row, from left) Harley McElroy, Cheyenne McElroy and Katelyn Freeman; (second row) Yasmine Ahmed, Aaron Hendricks and Kayleigh Freeman; (third row) Maggie Burton, Ross Davis and Toni Covington.

Halifax County Little Theatre’s latest production of “Ruby: The Story of Ruby Bridges,” directed by Taryn Garland, helps to recreate the events of one of the biggest moments of the fight to end segregation in the United States.

The production is designed to remind of the sacrifices and hardships faced by the families who fought to end segregated schools in the Jim Crow South.

As with any story, a hero requires a foil. While this play showcases Ruby’s courage, and the courage of her family, it also attempts to display the anger and ugliness of the individuals who vowed to fight to the end not to give up control of life as they had experienced it. Fortunately for the producers, a dedicated group of actors are filling the roles of some of the citizens who made life a living hell for Ruby and her family.

This cast of villains has assumed a lot of responsibility for creating characters who would not be well respected in the world today. They represent a wide variety of ages and experiences but are working hard to recreate the atmosphere of New Orleans in the 1960s.

Two adult cast members bring their talent and experience to the cast and help provide expertise to their younger peers.

Ross Davis, a retired schoolteacher, has experience with HCLT on and off since the 1970s and wants to help the younger generation know more about the damage done to people’s lives because of intolerance and discrimination.

Davis says it is interesting that she is the only cast member who was around long enough to remember Ruby and the details of the events. She is excited to be able to share the history with the younger generation.

Toni Covington spends her days as a customer service representative and must assume a different demeanor for her part of an angry parent on the demonstration line. She has several shows on her resume including two recent productions of “Miracle on 34th Street.”

Covington is glad to bring this show to the stage because she feels, “Audiences will walk away with more appreciation for all races.”

She is especially interested in younger audiences seeing the trials faced by Ruby and her family in the struggle for equal treatment from the government for all people.

A contingent of high schoolers in the cast bring a large body of experience to the stage. They play both adults and students in the ensemble and have prepared to assume multiple characters as needed. Aaron Hendricks has been in HCLT and Prizery shows for many years. When not on stage he is involved in the ACE team at Galileo Magnet High School in Danville. He says he is glad that, “as a nation we have come a very long way.”

Representing HCHS are Katelyn Freeman, Harley McElroy and Cheyenne McElroy. Harley McElroy says she is amazed that, “people could be so mean.” Cheyenne McElroy and Freeman are taking part in their first HCLT production, but both say that they are learning about being on stage as well as the history of the civil rights movement. They both suggest this as a valuable experience for younger students.

Halifax Middle School has a contingent of theatre veterans in this cast. Yasmine Ahmed, Halle Beadles and Kayleigh Freeman share an interest in theatre, and all are especially interested in this story. All three say they have learned things they did not know about the fight for equality and especially the extreme nature of abuse to African American people under segregation laws.

On playing this challenging part, Ahmed says, “It is difficult saying ugly things to my co-actors.” That is perhaps the strongest benefit of live stage productions. Nowhere else can an audience experience the story first hand.

The youngest members of the ensemble are among the most experienced. Maggie Burton and Christopher Mosher are both only nine years old but have extended stage resumes. They have multiple credits and appearances on The Prizery stage. As Burton describes it, “Now I know what segregation was all about.” In addition, Mosher says, “People should come…it could change their point of view.”

There are many important lessons in this story of courage and activism.

Tickets are available at The Prizery box office or online from Prizery.com or HCLT.com. The show opens 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, in The Prizery theatre. More shows are set for the same time on Feb, 22, 27, 28 and 29. Matinee performances are set at 3 p.m. on Feb. 23 and March 1.