Directed by Daniel Carlton, performed by Blackberry Productions, Salem College, Shirley Recital Hall

Tickets and showtimes can be found here.

Daniel Carlton, a New York City-based playwright, was inspired to write March On after hearing one of his colleagues at Blackberry Productions lament that the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington came and went without much fanfare.

“I was thinking the people who went didn’t know they were going to hear ‘I Have A Dream,’” Carlton said. “Why did they go? If they were under 25, why did they go? 1963 was such a violent year. History has a way of sanitizing the victory but hiding the blood and the fears.”

Carlton describes March On, which has played to a sold-out audience of school children at the Apollo Theater in New York City, as a docu-musical. Three of the characters are based on actual participants whom Carlton interviewed with a tape recorder, while others are invented. The main characters and real-life people on whom they are based are a cross-section of the movement — a white woman from Massachusetts, an older black man and a 17-year-old black teenager from Chicago. The play is suffused with music, from gospel and movement songs to the Bob Dylan classic “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

The answers to Carlton’s question are not what audiences might expect. The 17-year-old from Chicago, for instance, had only traveled to the Deep South, where he encountered segregation, and he attended Emmett Till’s funeral at the age of 8.

“His real motivation, he said, was that he had never seen mountains, and here was this bus ride where he could do that,” Carlton said.

Carlton’s play includes two reporters, one black and one white, who are ironically among the invented characters. The reporters act as a narrative device, essentially standing in for Carlton as the interviewer. But their roles also highlight the way in which the news media both magnified and distorted the civil rights movement. At some point, the reporters can’t help but become moved by the story and become part of it.

“You go for a reason, but you realize that your presence alone has put on you on the same historic path as those who came to march,” Carlton said.

Carlton said he hopes the play can be a “map” for current day mobilizations around gun violence, immigrant rights, women’s rights and other causes.

It’s all about how people figure out what it means to show up for justice. 

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