The Parchman Hour
Mike Wiley Productions’ newest work commemorates the struggle, the bravery, the hope and unwavering strength of the Freedom Riders of 1961. On May 26, 2011, a performance of The Parchman Hour was presented as the finale of the national 50th Anniversary Freedom Riders Reunion in Jackson, MS, just miles down the road from Parchman Farm Penitentiary where many of the Freedom Riders in attendance at the performance had been imprisoned 50 years ago.
It was in 1961 when the original 13 Riders boarded a bus in Washington, DC bound for New Orleans via Mississippi and Alabama. They barely made it out of Alabama alive. Over the course of the next three months, approximately 300 other Riders took up the mantle and followed the path of those first brave few. Mobs brutally assaulted many. Others were arrested and, instead of posting bail, chose to serve sentences in one of the most brutal prisons in the South, Parchman Farm, proving the Freedom Riders and the movement to desegregate interstate travel would not be deterred.
Originally produced by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and The Lab Theatre of the Dept. of Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The Parchman Hour is a celebration of bravery and a call to action through remembrance, leaving the audience asking, “Who stood up for me? For whom can I stand up today? Who needs my words, my song, my voice?”
In October 2011, The Parchman Hour received its world Equity premiere as part of the professional season by Playmakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill. Mike Wiley Productions’ touring company for The Parchman Hour includes a company of 10-12 persons, including musicians and production manager. This unique documentary drama is offered in two formats, a 50-minute abbreviated version for students, recommended for grades 7-up, plus the full two-act production that runs 90-100 minutes plus one intermission. One daytime student performance plus a same-day evening full-length public performance in the same venue can be scheduled.
In a Word…
"Almost fifty years after the Freedom Rides I was blessed to witness the dramatic retelling of our struggle and see a new generation of young folks learning about our efforts to break down barriers. I felt the presence of the “beloved community” we dreamed about in 1961." - (Freedom Rider) Attorney Charles Jones
"Mike Wiley's The Parchman Hour is magnificent, moving, historically pitch-perfect, brilliantly conceived... Don't be put away when I say it is as well-executed a piece of learning as I've ever seen -- because it is great, great theater." - Hodding Carter
“…intensely researched and brilliantly crafted... unerring sense of dialogue, acute editorial sense of scene... Mike Wiley’s new work is a strong—actually, make that necessary—reminder, not only of some of the starkest realities of the segregated South, but of the astounding resilience of those who chose to stand against it. Strongly recommended...” - The Independent Weekly
A Presenter's Point of View
“At the performance for the finale of the Freedom Riders 50th Reunion event in Jackson, MS, I was fortunate enough to be sitting behind two Freedom Riders seeing this work for their first time. Watching their response, hearing their murmurs to each other, seeing tears in the corners of their eyes as the play moved forward, seared my soul. At the point on stage when young Hank Thomas starts to lead their chant in the prison, singing “You can take my mattress, oh yeah...,” the quiet chorus of voices instantly joining in from the Freedom Riders scattered throughout that audience of 1000+ is a moment I’ll never forget.”
Live Performance Preview