This month, Discovery Theater began to show its original production “How Old is a Hero?” in celebration of Black History Month. The show highlights a rarely told part of the Civil Rights Movement: the heroic role played by teenagers and young children.
The show’s two casts—they switch between traveling to local schools and performing in-house at Discovery Theater--will perform in February for thousands of students. In a recent performance at a Bethesda elementary school, about 800 children, ages 6 to 12, watched the program and interacted with the characters.
“How Old is a Hero?” tells the true stories of Ruby Bridges, a 6-yr-old from New Orleans, and the first black child to attend an all-white school in the South at the start of integration in 1960; 16-year-old Ernest Green, one of the Little Rock Nine and the first black student to graduate from Little Rock Central High School in 1958; and Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old activist from Montgomery, Alabama, who refused to give up her seat on a city bus nine months before Rosa Parks in 1955.
Their stories are told in a way to captivate the students’ attention. The children in the audience sang along to traditional Civil Rights songs, answered questions, and chanted “Freedom Now!” when appropriate.
At the beginning of the show you meet Ruby, a very excited little girl, who does not understand why people shouted as she entered her new school or why the other students and teachers boycotted the school. Claudette and Ernest teach Ruby and the audience about civil rights using their own stories and by writing key words on a blackboard. Together, Ruby and the audience learn about segregation, prejudice, integration, equality, Constitutional rights, and what it means to be a hero.
Through sharing and reenacting their stories, Ernest and Claudette inspire Ruby to not give up but to keep going to school, knowing her actions will make it easier for future children. Ernest describes being yelled at, hated, and not having many friends in the beginning, but also of accepting his high school diploma with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in attendance. Claudette shares how it felt to be thrown off a bus, kicked, and yelled at just because she did not want to stand in the back. But she received praise from her community, including Rosa Parks, for standing up for her Constitutional rights and bringing about the Montgomery Bus Boycott nine months later.
To their communities, Ruby, Ernest, and Claudette were heroes, even if they were young. In the end, the characters want the children to understand that any ordinary child can do something extraordinary and be a hero, regardless of age.
When asked if they’ve ever helped anyone or done something nice without being asked, all of the students and teachers raised their hands. They all were declared heroes! As a finale, the audience, teachers included, were asked to shout their age in unison, leaving the kids in giggle fits as they discovered the “real” age of their teachers.
“How Old is a Hero?” will continue to travel around local Washington, D.C.-area schools for the rest of February. If your school or community is interested in hosting a performance of “How Old is a Hero?” before March 1st, bookings are still available through Class Act Arts. The program will be back in Discovery Theater February 20-22, and you can purchase tickets here.