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Readers theater performance commemorates fight for civil rights

Actors read the their parts to "Thunder of Freedom." Left to right: Tolu Ekisola as Callie Montgomery, the protagonist who becomes a civil rights activist; Cherise Payton as Mrs. Malone, a teacher; Portia Johnson as Alma Michel Carnegie, a civil rights activist and Rachel Phelps, the narrator. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)1 / 3
The screenplay “Thunder of Freedom” is based on a book that Cheryl Reitan and Sue (Lorenzi) Sojourner wrote together. Reitan is on the left. (Photo submitted)2 / 3
Providing the music for the reader's theater were sisters Meliita Thygeson-Wright and Takiiya Thygeson-Green, who sang, and Charles Obije on piano. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)3 / 3

Duluthian Cheryl Reitan is working to get her screenplay about the civil rights movement in Mississippi, "Thunder of Freedom," produced in Hollywood. Last week a "reader's theater" production of the screenplay was performed at Teatro Zuccone on Tuesday and Thursday and met with favorable reviews.

Reader's theater is done without memorization, sets or costumes, allowing the audience to use their imaginations to bring the text to life. The lead character, Callie, is a feisty teen who confronts racism amid the background of the 1967 state election.

Reitan said audience feedback after the performances will help her fine-tune the the play.

"This is why you do reader's theater, so you can see, feel and do the rewrite," she said.

"My next step is to make a movie trailer from the actors in the reader's theater," she told the Budgeteer. "It's a new thing in Hollywood. Producers and directors have stacks of scripts waist-high. So if you can make a two-minute clip, you save them a lot of time." She is hoping a movie trailer will pique a Hollywood production company's interest from "a nobody like me."

This performance featured vocal and keyboard performances and a full cast reading parts of the feature-length screenplay.

The screenplay is inspired by the book, "Thunder of Freedom: Black Leadership and the Transformation of 1960s Mississippi" by Sue (Lorenzi) Sojourner with Reitan. Sojourner is a former Duluth resident now living in Minneapolis. Sojourner is a sister to longtime Duluth resident Muriel Abram. In the 1960s Muriel helped rally the community to support Sue's work in the south. The Duluth News Tribune has accounts of the Duluth community donating supplies to Sojourner and her then-husband as they headed off to the south to support the right to vote.

Directed by Jean Sramek, the cast included many Duluth community leaders. Reitan said that recent incidents of racial inequality have captured the nation's attention and the fight for civil rights must be remembered.

"This story needed to be told and I'm here. I'm not about to stop. I will try my best to make this into a feature length film," she said.

Naomi Yaeger

Naomi Yaeger is a freelance writer and the former editor of the Budgeteer. See her blog at