Celebrating what would have been the slain civil rights leader's 68th birthday, students at Los Encinos School on Wednesday attended a special Los Angeles Music Center performance about the life and struggles of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
"Living the Dream," a three-person musical play, reenacted historic moments from the civil rights movement and King's life. It was performed by the children's theater group Imagination Company as part of the Music Center Education Division's Music Center on Tour program.
The heavy rain outside did little to dampen the enthusiasm of students from the small, kindergarten through sixth-grade private school. They clapped, groaned and sang along during the show, which was alternately humorous and serious.
"It's really good to teach kids about what happened so that it won't happen again," said sixth-grader Lauren Levine, referring to the racial discrimination of the era. "I've seen the show six times now and I always love it."
The 45-minute show began and ended with the students joining the performers in a chorus of "We Shall Overcome." Sandwiched between was a whirlwind history of King's life and some of the most important moments of the civil rights movement.
The actors brought two students on stage to demonstrate what is was like for African Americans during the time between the Civil War and passage of the federal civil rights laws in the 1960s that ended legal segregation, poll taxes and other forms of discrimination. As their classmates looked on, the students were denied restaurant service, hotel rooms, their voting rights and a drink of water.
"As an actor, I don't want to be on stage just flexing my acting muscles," said performer Rex Lee. "It's nice to be able to say something."
"We are teaching kids something they need to know right now," agreed Jearrod Arnold, who, with Elizabeth Tobias, rounded out the multicultural troupe. "It's important to reach them in a setting like this, when people can think intelligently about racial issues and our nation's history."
One of the most moving aspects, the actors said, is when a child inevitably asks the question--as one did Wednesday--"Why was Martin Luther King shot?"
"We tell them that Dr. King asked people to change the way they did things and that many people don't like change," Tobias said. "Some people got scared and some people got angry and did things that they should not have done."