In 1960, the front lines of the struggle for Civil Rights ran right up to the front steps of an elementary school in New Orleans. Ruby Bridges, who was only six years old, was ready to start first grade. Suddenly, she was in all the papers, and it seemed like half the world wanted to stop her from going to school. But Ruby faced the dangers, went to school day after day. This true story of courage and family is as inspirational today as it was 50 years ago.
This production has been completely updated and re-written by Christina Ham, with new music by award-winning composer Gary Rue. Artistic Director Richard Hitchler saw the need to re-vamp the production, "Over a year and a half ago, I watched young children (my own included) of all cultures walking into school together, several of which were experiencing the excitement of going to school for the first time. It reminded me of Ruby! The Story of Ruby Bridges, in which Ruby Bridges spent her entire first grade year alone in a classroom of a school she was supposed to integrate. Ruby's story is one that needs to be told over again. It is a story of courage, sacrifice and perseverance. Since we first produced the play in 2000, several other media outlets have told her story. As more facts about her life came to light, I wanted to include as many "real life" situations and emotions as we could into the script. Unfortunately, Deborah Torraine, who originally wrote the script had passed away."
Hitchler goes on to say, "But luckily for us, I had been introduced to Christina Ham, whose success with SteppingStone productions Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963 and Henry's Freedom Box made her the obvious choice to re-write the script. She has an incredible ability to research thoroughly and write from a child's perspective. She fell in love with the idea, and her vision and enthusiasm, along with her on-site visit to New Orleans and research, created a new Ruby! The Story of Ruby Bridges, one that combines real emotion, situations, dialogue, and song into one powerful piece of theater and story telling. We are grateful for a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board Cultural Community Partnership program that funded Christina Ham¹s travel and research."
This production is a special one, not only for the new script and music, but because two sisters, Rhapsody and Essence Stiggers will be playing the roles of Ruby. Rhapsody, the younger of the two, says, "I love being on stage and having the privilege to get to tell her story through a musical with dancing, acting and singing. Even though Ruby had many obstacles in just being at school she also had fun moments. It was exciting that she stood up for our civil rights even though there were many obstacles in her way. She wanted to make a better life for herself, her siblings and other African American kids. Her going to that school broke down many barriers."
Essence agrees, "It is an honor to reenact this story that is a part of our history and her courage changed the course of civil rights. My favorite part is the ending when Ruby made it through the whole year never backing down even though there were protestors trying to stop her. Even though I already knew her history, I learned that many people don¹t know her story, and doing this play will inform more people. I also learned that heroic white people were a part of our struggle for civil rights and fought right alongside African Americans."
Kelly Stiggers, mother to Rhapsody and Essence, says "There are so many valuable attributes in participating in SteppingStone plays. We live in a diverse community and having plays that represent and tell all of our stories is so important and key to learning about all of our contributions and struggles. There are other benefits as well, such as learning from professional artists, something that your typical school play does not have the ability to do. While Essence has had some prior experience in theatrical plays and singing, she has been tremendously helpful in guiding Rhapsody with her character and in singing. Rhapsody is a classically trained ballet and modern dancer, and helps Essence with this part of the production. It has been so nice and comforting to see how they have each other¹s back. The overall effect has been very positive with our family and our 8 year old even knows all of the lines and songs, she is just itching for her chance to play on stage too."