Farrell: ‘Alabama Story’ is the show we need right now


Don Farrell

Commentary by Don Farrell

I truly believe the theater has the ability to change people’s hearts and minds. That is why I’m drawn to this art form because it brings together people to not only to be entertained, but touched.

Great plays and musicals stick with people long beyond those two hours in the darkened theater where priceless memories are created and experiences occur that not only heighten our understanding and enjoyment of theater, but also teach us who we have been, who we are and who we can become.

A year ago, I was part of a powerful production that I believed sparked conversations for audiences. Actors Theatre of Indiana produced the Indiana premiere of Kenneth Jones’ play “Alabama Story.” It is about a librarian who was persecuted by politicians for protecting a children’s book in the Jim Crow South.

It’s a true story about Indiana’s own Emily Wheelock Reed, who, as the Alabama state librarian in 1959, defended a book called “The Rabbits’ Wedding,” which depicts a black-furred rabbit marrying a white-furred rabbit. Politicians wanted to censor the story because of its themes of interracial marriage.

I enjoy speaking with theater patrons as they exit one of our shows, but it was quite different during our 2019 run of “Alabama Story.” Normally, patrons and actors would express their appreciation for each other. Post-show conversations would be pleasant yet brief. But with “Alabama Story,” I noticed that patron after patron wanted to stay longer and share their thoughts on the play. Some, with tears in their eyes, asked if they could give an embrace after expressing personal stories about their own lives and experiences.

In the year since we presented this production, the United States has intensely dealt with issues relating to race. Whether it is the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis or a rise in hate groups gathering online, the themes of civil rights and prejudice are prevalent in 2020. This story from 1959 feels even more relevant today.

The events of 2020 have opened my eyes in a new way. I spoke with my colleagues at Actors Theatre of Indiana and we knew we wanted to do something.

So, the idea came to bring back our production of “Alabama Story.” ATI will be offering the chance to watch our recorded production in your own home using an on-demand online streaming option. The video also will include a conversation with playwright Kenneth Jones, our director Jane Unger and the cast of “Alabama Story”. The cost is $35. More information can be found at atistage.org. It will be available to purchase through the Center for the Performing Arts box office at 317-843-3800 or by visiting our website to view in a pay-per-view format between Jan. 18, 2021 through Feb. 14, 2021.

It’s my hope that families will watch this show together, especially with their children, in order to spark discussions about civil rights. I am happy Actors Theatre of Indiana has the chance to be a small part of positive change for our community.

Farrell is the co-founder and artistic director for Actors Theatre of Indiana