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Burton, other theatre students bringing history to life at Rosa Parks Museum

May 4, 2017

When Adira Burton steps onto the stage in the auditorium of Troy University’s Rosa Parks Museum, she hangs up her coat and hat and transports her audience back in time.

Taking a seat at a desk, Burton opens an envelope and begins to read a letter penned by a child to the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement, Mrs. Rosa Parks. She responds as Mrs. Parks did with warmth, thoughtfulness and strength.

Burton, a sophomore theatre major from Gautier, Miss., has been portraying Mrs. Parks at special events at the museum for a little over a year. The one-woman performance was developed from the book, “Dear Mrs. Parks” and “Quiet Strength and grew out of a “brainstorming session” between Theatre and Dance Chair Tori Averett and Dr. Felicia Bell, the museum’s director.

“We talked about finding ways to use theatre and other arts to help tell the human story behind the history featured in the Rosa Parks Museum, and we shared lots of ideas on how to actively engage audiences – particularly younger audiences – in conversations about how our history shapes our present,” Averett said.

Burton said while the idea of playing a historical icon was a bit daunting, she is glad for the opportunity to share a special glimpse of Mrs. Parks with museum visitors.

“During the performance, I go through the letters that Rosa Parks received through the years from children and reenact her responses – basically reenacting a piece of history,” Burton said. “Most people say I look like Rosa Parks. I don’t really see it, but I’m glad that people enjoy the performance and that I can put smiles on their faces.”

Averett said the role has presented a great opportunity for Burton.

“For Adira, this has meant a great deal. Not only does she get to experience playing the role of such a respected and renowned figure in American Civil Rights history, she has gotten to research, learn about, and portray the humanity of Mrs. Parks as an ‘everyday’ individual,” Averett said. “Not only that, but she has been able to approach her field of study – Theatre – as a working professional, crafting opportunities for herself and sharing her talents with others in a way that promotes conversation and learning. Since she has been actually hired to portray Mrs. Parks a few times, this is also giving her an opportunity to treat this as an actual profession or job – something that is invaluable to her as she considers how she’ll approach her career as a theatre artist, and something that not all young people her age have the chance to experience. She’s a working actress.”

Burton arrived at TROY thanks to a friend who recommended the University’s theatre program.

“I was looking for a good theatre program and really had not been pleased with what I saw at schools in Mississippi,” she said. “I had a friend, who went to TROY, and he highly recommended it and so I came here.”

Like most theatre majors, Burton hopes to find her way to the stage or screen once she graduates but she hasn’t ruled out other options.

“The goal for all theatre people is to be on stage or in the movies,” she said. “That is what I would like to do, but if not that, I would like to write.”

Averett said Burton’s performances were the initial step in working with the museum.

“We are actually hosting a Rosa Parks Museum internship this semester in Theatre and Dance,” Averett said. “The 10 students in the class have researched, developed, written, designed and rehearsed new performance that we performed at the museum in April. This is a direct extension of the original project with Adira, and a product of our brainstorming session of creative ideas for sharing history. Characters in those performances included Virginia Durr, Claudette Colvin and Jo Ann Robinson, among others. We’re currently seeking funding for this initiative to continue, so that we can expand the creative collaborations between the Rosa Parks Museum and TROY Theatre.”

Students who took part in the internship project include Burton, Jermaine Van Buren, Jay Bowdoin, Veshonte Brown, Kezia Moore, Mallory Wintz, Carlton Hedman, Morgan Jordan, Joseph Crawford and Julie Wells. Averett and faculty member Jesse Graham also performed.

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