JEFFERSONVILLE — Nearly 20 years after the most recent performance of a Jeffersonville High School production that challenged students to examine their racial beliefs and foster conversations on race, the production is returning to Southern Indiana.
“School Colors” was first performed in 1993 through a partnership between the Jeffersonville High School theater department and an African American studies class. It ran through 2003 including multiple years when the students performed out of state.
Now a group of Southern Indiana residents are working to bring the production back — at a time when they say it’s important to further the conversation on racial inequality being heard across the nation. The play will include students who performed in the first iterations of the play in the 1990s and early 2000s, along with some of the current generation of high school students.
“I would love to have both because that’s where then you get that next generation,” said Jenni Herfel, who taught theater during that time. “Then it’s hope.”
At its onset, Herfel said, she had talked to her students about doing a performance on the Civil War, looking to focus on some of the lesser-told stories of the slaves themselves. By the time it was performed that November, it had evolved into a crucial conversation on racism in modern America.
Some students had said yes, racism was still prevalent, while others didn’t believe it was, Herfel said. They used their beliefs as a basis to start talking and along the way, challenged their own beliefs.
“We had a lot of discussions and from the discussions came little scenes,” Herfel said. “Where does it start? Does it start in the nursery? And this is all from their perspective.”
The conversations traced how children are socialized at a young age, and how that can forge paths into how they regard race and see others around them.
“Every year there was a new group that would come in and they would ad their reflections but the basic format never changed,” she said. “There would be scenes that would be added in taken out.”
Teah Williams-Hampton was one of the students who participated during the earlier runs of the play. Now she’s planning to be part of the new production, along with her daughter.
“We were all coming in with these different experiences and they’re all real,” she said, of her experience with the play. “It really helped me to understand the importance of creating safe spaces where people can be honest even if it does get intense.
“I think there’s this perception that if we can’t speak in a way where we’re all comfortable, then we can’t do this and this is not necessarily true. There’s going to be discomfort, but we still have to respect each other enough to validate our different experiences.”
Williams-Hampton, Herfel and others met met Monday to discuss the next phase in the plan, which includes seeking donations for production costs. They’re hoping to raise $25,000 to $35,000, with what is not used to put on the play going toward scholarships for Jeffersonville High School students. They’re planning to be ready to perform the play in fall.
“At first we wanted to do it pretty quickly but now I think we need to wait until at least October,” Barb Anderson, director at Haven House Services Inc. said during the meeting. “While the iron is hot we need to do it, but we also need to do it methodically.”
Williams-Hampton’s husband, Miguel, and daughter were also at the meeting, along with Indiana State Rep. for District 71 Rita Fleming and Clark County CARES member Carolyn King.