The Roots & Heritage Festival will have an extra theatrical flair this year as the Lexington Children's Theatre brings a show about the Underground Railroad to the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center.
The Long Road to Freedom, which will have two performances Saturday, is the story of a life-changing friendship between a white Quaker girl and a freed slave. The play seemed like a good complement to the traditional street festival, says Rasheedah El-Amin, executive director of the Lyric.
"It's really a wonderful story to show what it is for people to go against the grain and make decisions that can change the world," says Lesley Farmer, LCT's managing director.
This is only the second time the play, written by Jan Lucas, has been performed. It's also the second collaboration for the Lyric and the Children's Theatre. Last year, the two presented one performance of Anansi the Spider at the Lyric.
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That performance drew about 200 people, including lots of families, says El-Amin.
"We were just overwhelmed," Farmer says of the turnout for the first-time event. "It was such an amazing experience."
This year, all performances of The Long Road to Freedom, including the weekday performances for schoolchildren, will be at the Lyric. The Saturday shows, with the sponsorship of AT&T, will be "pay what you can" shows for which people contribute what they can afford for a ticket.
Director Vivian Snipes says LCT has been "trying more and more to become much more community oriented."
Even though LCT and the Lyric are just blocks apart downtown, there are "some invisible barriers," El-Amin says.
Farmer says for some people, seeing live theater can seem like an intimidating experience. She hopes the Lyric shows can draw new patrons to the Children's Theatre and adds that they also offer LCT stalwarts a chance to experience a different kind of production.
There are some challenges. The Lyric has a proscenium stage, which has space in front and behind a curtain and is raised above the audience. The LCT stage is a three-quarter thrust with no curtain and seats surrounding the stage, like a small amphitheater. Because of the difference, staging the show can be a challenge.
But there are also benefits, Farmer says. The Lyric has state-of-the-art lighting and sound that offers technical options beyond what those available at the LCT stage.
But the collaboration is more about building a sense of community and less about physical space, Farmer says.
"It's not about the building," she says, "it's about the people inside of it that are creating this amazing piece of art. It doesn't have to fit in this fine, small box.
"Hopefully we will see some new faces, and maybe they were thinking the theater wasn't for them and they'll find out the theater is for them."