Much of the work done by mega smart anthropologists entails delving into the dusty, sneeze inducing archives of humanity's past. What draws them to this discipline is the desire to understand the always complicated and twisted paths we have followed through time and the occasional heady rush they get when they're reminded that history is never static--a feeling that should not be confused with the pleasant wooziness of having ingested a tad too much allergy medication.
But anthropology is not restricted to the study of ancient peoples and cultures that stops at some random, old-timey moment--it is a vehicle that allows us to connect the dots between the way-back-then, the not-so-long-ago and the here-and-now. This, it must be noted, is a tricky business. Why? Because while it is true that the nearer we are to a specific point in the past the more we know about it, it is just as true that our close proximity often clouds our view, obscuring relevant contributions to the picture as a whole.
So what proverbial machine can effectively clear away the mist from what may have been hidden from our conscience mind? Why, art of course! And that's exactly the tool Milwaukee's own Urban Anthropology Inc. is making use of by staging the theatrical production of The March to Kosciuszko. Hooray for artsy science!
Drawing from the very real era of the Civil Rights Movement, the play is set during the moments leading up to the fair housing march of 1967, when some 200 members of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Youth Council mobilized and marched to Kosciuszko Park via what was known then as 16th Street Bridge. Long a geographic symbol of Milwaukee's racial and economic divide between the largly black North Side community and the largely white South Side community, the structure has since been renamed the James E. Groppi Unity Bridge in honor of the legendary Catholic priest who worked tirelessly for equality.
The March to Kosciuszko centers on two families whose neighborhoods, though dramatically different, have suffered the loss of available housing due to the unfettered and unwise freeway construction boom of the 1950s and 60s--a sad period for American cities across the country, the catastrophic results of which we are still trying undo. As the date of the march nears, each family grapples with their own issues. For the South Side family, it is the desire to preserve the historically Polish culture of their neighborhood. For the North Side family, it is the desire to play a role in the dismantling of systemic housing discrimination which denies blacks the freedom to live where they choose. Both are understandably wary of the violence that may be sparked by the march.
Serving as the narrator of the play is General Thaddeus Kosciuszko, for whom the Milwaukee park and its statue commemorate. Polish by birth, Kosciuszko was an engineer who served with great distinction during the American Revolutionary War against the British and then returned to Poland to win independence for his home country.
You may fairly ask, what does a Polish engineer born in 1746 have to do with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s? Turns out that Kosciuszko's belief in equality was so strong that he requested that the money from his U.S. estate be used to buy freedom for slaves, provide them with education and purchase land. Now that's what we call a forward thinker! Not only that, his character serves as the metaphoric and anthropological human "bridge" between the play's two families. Whoa, that's deep, no? Yes!
Rehearsals are now underway for The March to Kosciuszko, but they are in need of three actors, one middle aged Latina and two middle aged to elderly African Americans (male or female). Actors will receive a stipend in the form of a share of the door for each performance. If you or someone you know would be interested in auditioning, contact Jill Florence Lackey, PhD at jflanthropologist at sbcglobal dot net asap.
The March to Kosciuszko will be staged at Basilica of St. Josaphat, 2333 South Sixth Street, in November. Stayed tuned to CricketToes to find out the exact dates when you can see this fascinating and anthropologically significant work of art.