“Blueprints to Freedom”: A Narrative of Equality and Redemption

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Leah Sosland

Before taking a field trip to the downtown venue of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, I knew little of a man named Bayard Rustin. In the course of the 90-minute World Premiere of the play “Blueprints to Freedom: An Ode to Bayard Rustin,” written by Michael Benjamin Washington and directed by Lucie Tiberghien, I would come to learn that this arcane figure was one of the most prominent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.

In the earlier years of my life, whenever I would hear anyone speak about the Civil Rights Movement, I would naturally think of one man and one man only: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As I got older, names like Malcolm X, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Rosa Parks began to come to mind as well. These are the names we are taught in school, and they’re the people who we would see portrayed in episodes of “Schoolhouse Rock.”

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Bayard Rustin and Cleveland Robinson chatting while they advertise for the March on Washington. Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org.

“Blueprints to Freedom” magnificently uncovers the role that Bayard Rustin played in strategizing and orchestrating the landmark March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Being one of the few openly gay men in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, Bayard Rustin was (ironically) exiled from the Movement for his sexuality. After returning from a trip to India, where he learned the techniques of nonviolent civil resistance with major leaders of the Gandhian movement, Rustin began advising Dr. King on his newly learned tactics. He later embarked upon his journey as the chief strategist for the March on Washington, where King delivered his immortal “I Have a Dream” speech.

“Blueprints to Freedom” brings the story of a man forced behind the scenes of the Civil Rights Movement center-stage. Not only does the play reveal his own story, but also the stories of those in his life. Miriam Caldwell, his fictional assistant, brings a feminist twist into the narrative as we see her pushing for the recognition of the underappreciated women in the Civil Rights Movement. Davis Platt Jr., Bayard’s love interest, advocates for acknowledgement of the struggle to achieve gay rights. On top of that, the play dramatizes Rustin’s struggles with his relationship with G_d throughout the course of the production. The myriad of social commentary leaves the audience with a great deal to contemplate following the curtain drop.

Although the many social commentaries were both meaningful and thought provoking, their abundance may have bordered on becoming excessive. In a play about the Civil Rights Movement, adding in the struggles for LGBTQ rights and women’s rights in addition to the personal struggles of each character, diluted the message of the story, making it too widely spread. Though the attempt to cover so many facets of Rustin’s story was ambitious, perhaps focusing the attention of the play on no more than a few major themes would have clarified Washington’s thematic priorities.

Nonetheless, the actors portrayed their characters with vitality and brought clear attention to each individual issue present in the play. Washington seemingly morphed into his role as Rustin, and it seemed as if there was an incessantly passionate, yet articulate, force driving each line he uttered. Ro Boddie, who was faced with the difficult task of playing Martin Luther King Jr., completely encapsulated the eloquence of Dr. King’s speeches and the hypnotic quality of his voice. Mandi Masden brought the determination and spunk of Miriam’s personality to the stage, and her energetic performance was simply fun to watch.         

Senior Adena Goldberg admits that at first, she “was actually not very excited about going to the play”, and she “didn’t know what to expect.” However, by the end of the play she “was so intrigued. Not only did the actors perform with both talent and emotion, but the writing was incredible and my eyes were opened to the struggles that so many groups–not only African Americans–faced in the Civil Rights Movement and continue to face today.”

Not only was the play brimming with philosophical enrichment, it also was an artistic feat on the part of Washington. Washington starred in his own play as Bayard Rustin, and creatively incorporated impressive musical effects, along with emotionally chilling historical footage. This effectively brought the impact of the March–and the captivating personality of Bayard Rustin–to life.