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Tylie Shider Talks About Inspiration behind "Lift Every Voice: A Letter to the Editor" which Pushcart Players will present in Minneapolis

originally published: 02/22/2024

Tylie Shider Talks About Inspiration behind "Lift Every Voice: A Letter to the Editor" which Pushcart Players will present in Minneapolis

Pushcart Players cast of “Lift Every Voice: A Letter to the Editor” (Left to Right) Harriett Trangucci, Joshua Hendricks, Marlaina Powell. Photo by Thierry Donaus

Pushcart Players, New Jersey's Emmy-nominated and award-winning touring theatre for family audiences, will present Lift Every Voice: A Letter to the Editor on February 28 and 29 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was in Minneapolis where the New Jersey playwright, Tylie Shider, found the inspiration to write this piece.

Lift Every Voice centers on Junebug, a 12-year-old boy in the 1960’s South, who learns of James Meredith’s attempt to enroll as the first African American at the University of Mississippi. When the editor of “The Oxford Eagle,” a local newspaper, expresses her negative opinions on integration, Junebug takes matters into his own hands and confronts these views, speaking out for equality and inclusion. He does so by writing a letter to the editor.

Pushcart interviewed Shider to learn more about what influenced him to write the play.

Tylie Shider Talks About Inspiration behind "Lift Every Voice: A Letter to the Editor" which Pushcart Players will present in Minneapolis

After finishing grad school at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Shider moved to Minneapolis in the summer of 2019 on a Jerome fellowship. Every year after that, he was on another fellowship consecutively for five years at the Playwrights’ Center in Minneapolis.



 
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In the summer of 2020, Shider created a short documentary about the George Floyd protests in Minneapolis. Shider says, “I’m always fishing for stories because I consider myself an investigative playwright…my undergraduate education is in Journalism and my graduate education is in Playwriting.”

During his research and on-field interviews, he ran into a pastor who also owned a pub down the street from his church.

“I was very intrigued by the sort of paradoxical nature of a pastor who owns a pub. I interviewed him about the state of race relations and after a while, I started to pay attention to his church more, and at his church is where I met ST Jamison, Jr” (‘Junebug’ in Lift Every Voice).

“To be honest, this is a church that is predominately white-identifying and very few black-identifying people in the church. ST was one of probably a handful and so we easily met and had a conversation…I asked him what it was like growing up in Mississippi and he told me this story.”

“I think there’s a little bit of a bias there because I’m a writer who grew up reading, you know?” continued Shider. “And I’m very literary like the character in the play. And because of that, this story about this little boy who wrote a letter in protest of an editor’s protest of the civil rights movement in his town intrigued me immediately.”

Shider told Jamison he would like to interview him more about this story because he was thinking about adapting it into a play.

“I think about 2-3 weeks later, I got an email from John Wooten (Producing Artistic Director of Premiere Stages at Kean University) introducing me to Paul (Whelihan, Producing Artistic Director of Pushcart Players)…Paul was asking for submissions for someone to write a children’s play about black history, and I had already had this idea. And so I said if I get this commission, I know exactly which play I would write, partly because it is set up against the James Meredith incident…so the historical context made it a history piece. So I got the commission and it was just really smooth and serendipitous. I started interviewing ST now with the commission so it kind of validated our interviews professionally.”



 
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“So much of his biography is in the play. Both his parents did work at the University of Mississippi, he did enroll at University of Mississippi, he did graduate from Ole Miss just like James Meredith…so much fact made it to the piece when it was adapted…it’s a historic piece of biography…but distilled…that’s the conceit of theater though.”

Shider said on Pushcart Players’ production of Lift Every Voice:  “It’s one of my bragging rights. I love talking about it and how it’s traveling around to all the schools and it’s really cool…I’m so excited that the play is going (to Minneapolis) and ST gets a chance to see it…I’m also the playwriting resident at his church…and so as part of my program there, they’re bringing this play for the congregation and for the community to come out and see the piece.”

Founded in 1974, Pushcart is celebrating 50 years as the award-winning professional touring theater company specializing in arts education for children. Twice nominated for an Emmy©, Pushcart is the recipient of numerous state and private awards for excellence and innovation. Pushcart brings substantive musical theater, workshops, and residencies to young people and their families in schools and theaters nationwide. The company has traveled more than 6.6 million miles nationally and abroad, from the rural red schoolhouse to the White House.

Pushcart Players addresses social studies, literature, history, special educational needs, social-emotional learning, equity, diversity, accessibility, inclusion, values clarification, and character education for young people, their families, and their educators. All performances by professional artists (Actors’ Equity Association) are supported by study guides, post-performance assessments, and other supplemental materials. Pushcart adapts to any location with innovative scenery, lighting, and sound systems.

Lift Every Voice: A Letter to the Editor will be at the Calvary Church on February 28 at 6:30pm, as well as two performances on February 29 at South High School where ST Jamison, Jr currently teaches special education and English.

As a social-profit organization, Pushcart Players’ programs are made possible in part by NJ State Council on the Arts/Department of State, NJ State Bar Foundation, Pine Tree Foundation of New York, Actors’ Equity Foundation, ADP Foundation, The Community Foundation of NJ, EJ Grassmann Trust, The Grunin Foundation, Hyde & Watson Foundation, The Montclair Foundation, Newark Arts, PNC Bank/Lillian Schenck Foundation, The Sosland Foundation, Turrell Fund, The Whitehill Foundation, and numerous individual contributors.


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