“The Price of Progress” Play Preview

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The near west side of Indianapolis has a rich, predominately African-American history that precedes IUPUI by a century. To celebrate the campus’ half-century milestone and these community roots, the Multicultural Center has produced the play “The Price of Progress: The Indiana Avenue/IUPUI Story.”

Tickets are currently sold out for all three showings on March 19, 20, and 22 from 6 to 9 p.m. in the Campus Center theatre. This all-ages play was sponsored in part by the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion under Dr. Karen Dace’s direction.

Dr. Khalilah Shabazz, director of the Multicultural Center, devised the idea for a play to portray this history last year. That summer, she reached out to Vernon A. Williams, a strategist for the Office of Community Engagement, to write the play. He previously wrote the play “The Divine Nine” about black fraternities and sororities.

Vernon A. Williams: strategist for the Office of Community Engagement and playwright of “The Price of Progress: The Indiana Avenue/IUPUI Story.”

“I don’t mind telling you it was the most challenging writing that I’ve ever done,” he said. “Because I knew how much was tied to this. Spiritually and intellectually. And I knew it was nothing to be trifled with, so I did not want to dash into it without doing the kind of background checking that would give me a real up close feel for it.”

This play was partly inspired by “The Price of Progress: IUPUI, the Color Line, & Urban Displacement” by Dr. Paul Mullins and Glenn White, but it is not a dramatization of the book. Shabazz also drew on the work of the late Amber Pratcher, who documented Indiana Avenue in a web project.

“It would be impossible to capture all those emotions in what amounts to about 45 minutes to an hour for the first act. It would be impossible,” he said of the book. “The most that I do is whet people’s appetite to know more about the Indiana Avenue district.”

Cast and production members include community members, IUPUI students, alumni and employees. The play is not a comprehensive history of the area by any means. The hope is audience members will continue to study this story on their own.

The first act will narrate the history of Indiana Avenue and feature its African-American population. Characters at a 50th anniversary gala will look back on the cultural history of Indiana Avenue, up until the night Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated in 1969.

“Progress means somebody had to lose something and it’s important to understand that,” Dr. Dace said. “My sense is that members of the community appreciate the acknowledgement.”

The second act begins that same year and chronicles the big moments in IUPUI’s first 50 years and the continuing relationship between the near west side and IUPUI.

“I’m pleased to see people are interested in this history,” Mullins said.

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