Civil Rights tale to mark Springfield Civic Theater’s return

It has been two years since Springfield Civic Theatre has done a production. Its comeback show will make a statement not just on its return, but to history and contemporary times.

“One Sunday in Birmingham” will capture a different side of the Civil Rights Movement – the perspective of a Black teenage girl as a mostly young, inexperienced cast will bring the original play by Dayton’s Joyce Barnes to the John Legend Theater stage at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 24 and Friday, Feb. 25 and 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26.

Barnes, an associate professor at Sinclair Community College, grew up in Dayton, far from the hotbed of Civil Rights unrest in the south. It was upon later moving to Atlanta, inspired by the history there including the Civil War and Civil Rights, that she was inspired to write about a Black teen living in those turbulent times.

“The story just came to me,” she said. “It was listening to Dr. (Martin Luther) King’s sermons. I had heard his speeches, but hearing his sermons I saw a teen girl sitting there, bored. The story I wanted to do was go from being a boy-crazy girl to being in the Children’s March in Birmingham. It’s an amalgam of me in there.”

Moving back to Dayton in 2005, “One Sunday in Birmingham” took shape. Barnes was always a storyteller, producing plays in her backyard as a child, charging a nickel.

“One Sunday in Birmingham” was first presented at Sinclair in 2013 and done only a handful of time since, but always leaving people appreciative and excited, Barnes said.

Springfield Civic Theatre actually approached Barnes prior to the pandemic, but its persistence scuttled plans for the last two years. Given some of the events of unrest around the U.S. in that time, it’s more appropriate than ever to present it.

“The last couple of years things have been heightened. My story is set in 1963, but we’re still having these sorts of things, so this is timely,” she said.

The 680-seat John Legend Theater will be the largest venue “One Sunday in Birmingham” has been performed in. The show will be a multimedia experience with singing, movement songs, audience involvement and news footage from the time.

“I love a challenge and since we’ve never been in such a theater. The expectation is for the Springfield community to come out,” said Barnes.

The production is directed and produced by Kat King, who has collaborated with Barnes before. The mostly Black cast, which is something different for Springfield Civic, includes 10 kids and 15 adults. Barnes admitted it was a struggle to cast as they were not looking for traditional “theater kids” who know the stage but raw, undiscovered talent, which is harder to find.

King found it refreshing to work with newcomers.

“I love that portion of theater, to get a fresh kid who is excited to get onstage. You find these kids bring more enthusiasm,” she said.

Most of the cast is from Springfield with Dayton’s La’Brae Pointer playing the lead role of Ruby Watson.

This is King’s first time directing this show, having acted, produced and been stage manager of “One Sunday in Birmingham”. She’s bringing her own touch.

“I wanted to simplify the staging and get every audience member to see themselves in the show,” she said. “This show is as relevant today as it was in 1963, but it’s also a children’s story about building the future.”

King said Springfield Civic is one of the most supportive community theater groups she’s worked with, with the organization stepping up when needed and glad the show will be presented to tie into Black History Month and to speak to the present day.


What: One Sunday in Birmingham

Where: The John Legend Theater, 700 S. Limestone St., Springfield

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 24 and Friday, Feb. 25 and 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26

Admission: Adults $12; seniors and students $10

More info:

About the Author