KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It began as a living-room discussion about race relations between two theater veterans. Jeremiah and Mona Enna have built their lives around good theater.
They’ve preformed, choreographed, produced and directed productions around the world. In 1996, they moved to Kansas City to establish The Storling Dance Theater and The Culture House.
More than 20 years ago, yet another news story about racial violence lit a spark, and Underground was conceived.
“The Underground Railroad is a story where Black and white people came together to overcome this horrible evil,” Mona Enna said, the artistic director of Underground.
Insert, sweeping original musical scores, talented dancers with their own stories of racial tension and trauma, gritty choreography and about four years of production and Underground was born. It premiered 16 years ago to rave reviews.
Christiane Lisabe travels all the way from France every year to play Grandma Hattie in the production.
To her, its about much more than dancing.
“This production is talking about real life and people who helped slaves at the risk of being killed themselves. There were Blacks and whites. The truth is coming out, and when we know the truth and we are free to be who we are called to be,” Lisabe said.
Since 2008, tens of thousands of school-aged children have attended.
“It just kept growing year after year. We realized something is different with this,” Jeremiah Enna, the shows producer said.
He rallied churches and schools and helped develop curriculum that corresponds with Underground.
Several years ago, former Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore was in the crowd. The performance has a profound impact. Moore called his called his friend Ray Jarrett to talk about what this generation could do to continue the battle against racism. Together they founded Unite KC.
“It is a faith-based, grassroots movement to unite people. Instead of focusing on problems all the time, we want to be action-based and resolve some of the things that are going on in our community that separate us. We want to talk to one another, understand one another, and educate ourselves on our common heritage,” Jarett said, who is now the executive director of Unite KC.
The organizations motto is “Do one good thing.” Unite KC will release its first book at next weekend’s Underground performance. It features seven people in Kansas City that have changed their environment by doing one good thing.
Underground opens at the Kauffman Preforming Arts Center on February 3 and 4.