A Call to Conscience, RAC Program Support Grant Recipient: “Interactive Theater Showcases the Past and Inspires the Future”

July 17, 2019

Categories Impact Stories

Through a mix of performing arts, A Call to Conscience is bringing social justice issues to center stage while challenging viewers to become socially active

Phillip Graves plays the piano as Thelonious Monk, accompanied by bassist Darrell Mixon and drummer Steven Tatum, in the production of, “Next to Normal: The Thelonious Monk Story.”

In 2012, an interactive theater for social change, A Call to Conscience, opened its doors and has since used a multimedia format to dramatize historical themes dealing with the struggles of the oppressed. Through various forms of content including speeches, essays and adaptations, A Call to Conscience has highlighted transformative events and engaged audiences in thought-provoking conversations and an exchange of ideas regarding racism, police brutality, poverty, gender inequality and other civil and human rights issues.

The mission of A Call to Conscience is to serve as a catalyst for activism within the community. According to Linda Jo Smith, founder and executive director of A Call to Conscience, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic final speech, “I’ve been to the Mountaintop,” delivered at the Mason Temple Church of God in Christ, has been central to the group’s development and mission.

“The ‘Mountaintop’ speech is what created the idea for A Call to Conscience because we were so inspired and motivated when we performed it,” said Smith. “It inspired us to bring to the community a sense of activism and social action in a way that we can illustrate through theater arts.”

In its second year of operation, A Call to Conscience applied for a Program Support grant from the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis (RAC) to make their productions more accessible to a wider audience. Thanks to RAC funding, the organization is able to offer their shows to the public for free, which helps them better serve heavily marginalized communities with a goal to educate and inspire people to take social action.

More than just funding, RAC’s feedback during the grant application process each year has pushed A Call to Conscience to grow its community impact. One-on-one meetings with RAC staff coupled with the additional resources and workshops RAC offers have provided guidance to the organization on how to improve their applications each year in the competitive grant process, and the interactive theater has secured funding every year since 2013. They’ve also used RAC’s grant process as a template to secure additional outside funding.

A Call to Conscience members perform the organization’s rendition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” at Washington Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church.

A Call to Conscience used RAC funding during the 2018-2019 season to produce inspiring shows with a call to action. “Celebrating the Power of Dreams: The Annie Malone Story,” directed by A Call to Conscience’s Fannie Belle Lebby and written by playwright and 2016 RAC grant recipient, Mariah L. Richardson, focused on the life of businesswoman, inventor and philanthropist Annie Malone to deliver a message on perseverance and determination in the face of adversity. “Next to Normal: The Thelonious Monk Story,” another work by Lebby and Richardson, spotlighted the life of Thelonious Monk to tackle issues of mental illness related to disparities in health care, police interaction, education and social acceptance. With the grant from RAC, A Call to Conscience was able to offer these shows free of charge to the community and offset increased production costs associated with a much larger crew than originally planned.

Most recently, the theater put on a show at the Missouri History Museum titled “Times A Gettin’ Harder: Stories from the Great Migration,” a portrait of the migration of African Americans from the Jim Crow South to the cities of the North and West.