The classroom can highlight the civil rights movement in one way. But the stage can spotlight that struggle and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of equality for all in an entirely different fashion.

Erin Schmidt, director of development for Bright Star Touring Theatre of Asheville, North Carolina, has experienced that firsthand with the troupe’s production of “Let It Shine: The American Civil Rights Movement.” It will be presented at 2 p.m. Monday at The Commons in Columbus.

“To see an historical event presented right in front of you is a totally different thing,” Schmidt said. “To see Dr. Martin Luther King actually doing part of his work is, I believe, such a different experience for students.”

King was a charismatic, black, Baptist pastor who led much of the civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until he was shot and killed by an assassin April 4, 1968. “Let It Shine,” a 45-minute musical drama, highlights everything from the Montgomery bus boycott to the March on Washington.

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“We think the presentation of black history is so important partly because so many of these issues (from the past) still are relevant today,” Schmidt said. “And we believe young people need a good perspective on history, as well as a sense of what they can do now to continue making their world a better place.

“That can include using conflict resolution in ways that Dr. Martin Luther King did or learning to appreciate the value of diversity as King did. There are a lot of those tools they can continue using today.”

The production uses two cast members — a male and female — to play multiple characters. One would expect that one scene especially holds audiences’ attention.

“When Dr. King recites the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, you can hear a pin drop,” Schmidt said.

The drama includes music from the movement, including “We Shall Overcome,” “Let It Shine” and other numbers.

“The music brings a different emotion — one not always so easily accessible through actors speaking,” Schmidt said.

Tami Sharp, program director for the Columbus Area Arts Council, mentioned that the nonprofit agency has presented an MLK Day drama the past three years because of the importance of what she called edu-tainment, a mix of education and entertainment.

“That style (of presentation) is so important, because there are some youngsters who may not respond as well to more traditional teaching.”

More than 350 people, from primary school students to retirees, watched Cincinnati’s ArtReach theatrical troupe present a play last year during Martin Luther King Day at The Commons about Coretta Scott King, the late preacher’s wife.

Schmidt likes the idea of educating students still in the elementary school grades.

“It’s important for us to reach people at that age — a time when they usually have an especially open mind,” she said.

Education meets entertainment

What: The Columbus Area Arts Council’s presentation of Bright Star Touring Theatre’s production of the 45-minute musical drama, “Let It Shine: The American Civil Rights Movement.”

When: 2 p.m. Monday.

Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St. in Columbus.

Intended audience: Students from grade 3 to adults. Study guides are available online at artsincolumbus.org and also will be available at The Commons.

Admission: Free.

Sponsors: The African American Fund of The Heritage Fund — the Community Foundation of Bartholomew County and Columbus’ Taylor Brothers Construction Co.

Information: 812-376-2539 or artsincolumbus.org.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.