Lawrence playwright’s Juneteenth production will showcase hope and vision of true freedom

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Playwright Rita Rials believes love can break the chains of bondage, and she’s taking that message to the stage at the Lied Center in a community celebration of Juneteenth.

“Everyone needs to know what love does and what love doesn’t do,” Rials said. “To truly enjoy freedom, you have to know what true freedom means.”

Theater, live music and video projections convey the power of forgiveness, healing, love and freedom in “Love Does: A Celebration of Juneteenth.” Written and directed by Rials, the free multimedia event features local artists and community members voicing hope and a vision for true freedom while they highlight the resiliency, history and culture of African American people.

Rials said the event is for everyone, no matter their race. The symbolism of Juneteenth mirrors the bondage that continues today in spaces where people seek equity, equality and inclusion.

“People are being judged, mistreated because of their race, their lifestyles, their religion. We’re supposed to be ‘America the free,’ but there’s still bondage,” Rials said. “We want to talk about how love breaks bondage. It breaks the chains that hold people in bondage.”

During a recent practice session, Rials’ sister Nicole Rials kept her vocal cords warm singing gospel while pianist Tyson Williams provided accompaniment.

“Love Does” is being presented by the Lied Center and Life Restoration Ministries (LRM), a nonprofit organization Nicole founded in 2007 to meld her social work efforts with her faith. LRM provides programming through performing arts; mental health and wellness; and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education.

Nicole said “Love Does” is LRM’s first Juneteenth-themed production and its first partnership with the Lied Center. The production is targeted for teens and older, but younger audience members could benefit, too, with guidance.

“It is appropriate for younger kids and preteens, but they would likely need a dialogue with parents/adults to ensure they understand the messaging.”

Nearby, is Linette Williams, an understudy in the production. Williams has participated in multiple LRM events since 2011 and said audience members could expect acting and musical talents from the cast as well as a touch of comedy from “Love Does.”

“This year it is informative. It is educating — something that people have brought to the theater so that people of all races, all ethnicities can learn from.”

The cast list is rounded out by Kim Allen, Kay Emerson, Kristie Mullenix, Rakeisha Pringle and Kristen Rawls.

Contributed Photo Cast members of “Love Does: A Celebration of Juneteenth” run their lines. Practicing, from left to right, are Kim Allen, Rakeisha Pringle, Kay Emerson, Kristie Mullenix and Kristen Rawls.

Rawls plays Ricky, an African American male character. Like a “fly on the wall,” the audience will witness some of the real frustrations and conflicting feelings experienced by Black people and families alongside themes such as acceptance.

“I would say I add a little bit of comic relief. And I also, I think, offer a little bit of grounding to maybe some of the passion of the other characters.”

Mullenix plays Judy, a white character and “Karen-like” neighbor. She said she researched the role on Facebook and called it “challenging” with appreciation for the guidance the cast and crew had offered. 

“I’m kind of stepping outside of my normal soul to become something on stage that I wouldn’t portray in real life.”

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Additional voices will share their perspective during “Love Does” via projected videos between scenes and musical numbers. A promotional video can be viewed on YouTube with appearances by Lt. Myrone Grady, of the Lawrence Police Department, and Chief Nelson Mosley of the University of Kansas Office of Public Safety.

In the video, Grady acknowledges conversations about slavery and its lasting effects can be difficult, but as he’s aged he’s been able to recognize resiliency and “the ability to rise above circumstances and still be here — and not only be here — but flourish in a lot of aspects.”

“We still have a long way to go, but the fact that we’re still here and we are able to have these conversations and reflect back on our history means a great deal to me and should mean a great deal to everybody else, not just people of color or Black people specifically.”

“Love Does: A Celebration of Juneteenth” will premiere at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 18 in the main auditorium at the Lied Center, 1600 Stewart Drive. The event is free and open to the public. No ticket or advance reservations are required.

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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

More coverage — Juneteenth 2022:

Lawrence playwright’s Juneteenth production will showcase hope and vision of true freedom

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Playwright Rita Rials believes love can break the chains of bondage, and she’s taking that message to the stage at the Lied Center in a community celebration of Juneteenth.

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