Waco Civic Theatre premieres “A Song for Coretta” tomorrow

The Waco Civic Theatre’s new production of “A Song For Coretta” premieres at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Jubilee Theatre.

Tickets for the show cost $18 for adults, $16 for students and children and are available online at wacocivictheatre.com and at the Waco Civic Theatre box office. The play is scheduled to be performed at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12-13 and 18-20 and at 2:30 p.m. on February 14 and 21.

The play was written by Pearl Cleage in 2008, two years after the death of Coretta Scott King. It tells the stories of five women as they stand at the end of a long line of mourners waiting to view King’s body.

The set for the play is relatively simple. The cast members stand on a sidewalk that runs alongside a brick wall. A television on the stage shows pictures and film to add depth to the stories being told by the characters.

One of the women standing in that line met King as a child, and is returning to catch a last glimpse of her before she is buried. A second woman is a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, and another has just returned from the Iraq War. The stories and reflections of all five form the centerpiece of the play.

“The play is about five dissimilar women who are thrust into this situation, and they tell their stories,” said Eric Shephard, executive director of the Waco Civic Theatre. “All the women have stories to tell [and] hardships that they’ve endured.”

The cast itself is small and exclusively female, with members of various ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, Richard Leslie, the play’s director, said.

“I’ve got five really strong actresses in the roles, and I really think they are going to bring the script to life,” Leslie said. “I’m excited for the audience to see what they’re doing.”

Leslie said he was excited to direct this particular play because of the message it carries.

“The Civil Rights era is over, but we haven’t finished where we need to be yet, and I think it’s really important to recognize that,” Leslie said. “This play talks about some issues that are still out there.”

The title, “A Song for Coretta,” is meant to invoke King’s power to touch lives across decades. King was an accomplished singer with a degree in music, and music was an integral part of the Civil Rights movement. A whole genre of music, called freedom songs, was even created to help the Civil Rights cause. King’s love of music, combined with the influence of music in the Civil Rights movement, were what shaped the title of the play.

“They talk about music quite a bit in the show,” Shephard said. “What is an appropriate song for Coretta? Is it something contemporary or is it something from the 50s and 60s about fighting for freedom?”

King is renowned not only for her connection to Martin Luther King, Jr., but for her own efforts in the the Civil Rights movement. She also figured prominently in the LGBT rights movement and the women’s rights movement, earning the Gandhi Peace Prize in 2004.

The Waco Civic Theatre chose to show the play at the Jubilee Theatre rather than in its own theater to pay tribute to the Jubilee Theatre.

“We frequently do a play for Black History Month, and that is intricately intertwined with the history of that theater. It was a way to combine our missions on this occasion,” Shephard said.

The Jubilee Theatre is located in a strip of buildings at N. 15th and Colcord Ave. that was purchased and renovated by Mission Waco in 1994. In 1995, Mission Waco turned what was a condemned movie theater into the Jubilee, which now hosts concerts, community events and productions like “A Song for Coretta.” Mission Waco is dedicated to rejuvenating the community in north Waco through programs and buildings like the Jubilee Theatre.

Leslie said the stories told in the play center around hope, community and the idea so prevalent in the Civil Rights movement that strength is found through coming together.

“I don’t know how you could not be inspired and amused and lifted up a little bit,” Shephard said. “It’s powerful.”