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- A photo from Eclectic Pond's recent production Black Maria
Racial tensions between Indy residents and police are hardly a new concept. In fact, it's one that's centuries old and happen to be the setting for Eclectic Pond's recent production Black Maria.
The nine cast member show is written by Bennett Ayres — who works as a researcher with the Historical Society in the Museum Theatre Department and in the galleries in the Indiana State Museum.
"I was learning a little bit more about what Indianapolis looked like over a century ago," says Ayres. "I was really interested in a play that could really take people around to see some of the things — that in some cases are still there and some things are completely different now. I was also learning about Jack Johnson (the famous African American boxer), and the effect he had not only on boxing itself, but the integration of sports. Because he insisted on doing things that he wanted to do and refused to apologize for it. He upset so many people who were afraid of integrated sports and diversity. I didn't know how to mix those two ideas."
He was able to merge the stories into the setting of July 4, 1910 — the day of the great white hope fight. The story takes place on one of the most racially charged days in athletic history, and it follows a demoted IPD officer who is convinced that a win by Jack Johnson is the worst things that can happen to humanity. He decides that he is the only one who can do anything about it and takes matters into his own hands.
"I have always been fascinated by people who are terrified of progress and terrified of diversity" says Ayres. "I have always wondered what they are thinking. And why they almost feel like they have been chosen. These kinds of delusions of grandeur arevery strange. So I want to try to get into the head of someone like that."
Ayres was able to do exactly that. His story is even more pertinent now than when he began writing it a year ago.
"In some ways it's very depressing that we continue to repeat ourselves in history, that we continue to trend towards intolerance," says Ayres. "We seem to fall into fear so easily. These are just patterns that repeat themselves constantly. But on the other hand with a lot of the ugly things going on right now, if you do take the time to look at history it almost gives you a key. Yes, it's happened before but this is the outcome. And that's encouraging. In the past when people have tried to do their best to stop progress, and stop diversity, they have failed. So in a way that's encouraging and a message that's important to tell, especially right now."