With the play 'And In This Corner...Cassius Clay,' Metro Theater wants to get kids talking

In the wake of the death of Michael Brown and the unrest in Ferguson, Metro Theater Company’s new production, “And In This Corner ... Cassius Clay,” seems especially timely.

The play covers Muhammad Ali’s early life fighting segregation and racism and his work with Joe Martin, a white police officer turned boxing coach. It’s targeted toward elementary and middle school-aged children.

“I was looking at what was going on in our community and our theater,” said Julia Flood, artistic director for Metro Theater Company. “Part of our mission, is that it’s inspired by the intelligence and emotional wisdom of young people, and so what I saw happening in this community was our young people struggling with big issues and struggling to make things better moving forward. (Then) this play came into my hands.”

Playwright Idris Goodwin says Metro Theater’s mission matched his own intentions for the play.

“My whole objective with theater is to galvanize communities together, to get people talking,” Goodwin said. “So when (Metro Theater) told me why they wanted to do it and why it seemed relevant to them and the community, that made me feel very good.”

Flood hopes the production can spark important conversations among St. Lousians.

“I think there are a lot of things about the arts in general that connect in a really personal way with the individuals,” she said. “It takes something that maybe is too big to wrap your head around, like the civil rights movement, and it makes it personal, and it’s happening right there right now, right in front of you.”

In an effort to reach as many individuals as possible, the Metro Theater Company is spearheading a variety of projects in the St. Louis community as part of what is known as the Cassius Project.

The project’s website, cassiusproject.com, includes a timeline of Ali’s life juxtaposed with major points of the civil rights movement, data on racial inequality in St. Louis and activities for students.

The Cassius Project also extends into the production itself, Flood said.

“(We expect) 6,000 students in student matinees in the daytime starting next week and going through February,” she said. “After each of those we will have a discussion about the themes and ask the students to think about ways that that era is like this era and ways that they might use their own potential to do things to make the world better in the same way that Ali did.”

The Cassius Project will also be sending teaching artists into local classrooms to conduct workshops and discuss theater techniques with students.

“It’s going to be a really fun and exciting play to watch,” Flood said. “We’re really hoping that whether it’s kids coming with a school or its families coming together on a Sunday afternoon that people are going to leave and have wonderful conversations about the experience they just had and also be excited and inspired by the life of this person and how he engaged the world.”

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Alex SiegmanComment