CONCORD — The digital images of a 1950s mob scene jolt across the back of the stage, but they aren’t just backdrops or scenery props.
When actress Regan Sims reacts to the black and white series of crowd shots and close-ups of yelling faces, it pulls her — and the audience — right into that disorienting visceral chaos — into all the fear, hope, anger and action of a pivotal part of America’s history.
“Warriors,” which arrives at the Bank of New Hampshire Stage in Concord for a student education series performance at 10 a.m. and a public performance at 7 p.m. Friday, is about finding a voice amid that confusing tide.
It threads together two stories and eras, one that dramatizes Melba Patillo Beals’ searing memoir of the battle to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School over a half century ago and the second the experiences of a young, contemporary activist in the making.
The show, which coincides with Martin Luther King Jr. commemorations across the country, is a collaboration between several Connecticut enterprises, including The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, Connecticut Repertory Theatre and the University of Connecticut’s Department of Digital Media and Design, along with TheaterWorksUSA, which is managing the show’s three-month tour of about 60 communities.
“We hope that audiences come to understand that Melba’s struggle to integrate Central High is as vitally important today as it was in 1957, and that young people have always been on the front line of change,” said Ric Waldmen, a Hopkinton resident who is vice president of programming for the Bushnell, Hartford, Conn. “Melba, 78, has been actively involved in our production as a script and acting consultant, and actually has a surprise, recorded cameo role.”
The show’s director, Tamilla Woodard (who also is assistant director of “Hadestown on Broadway”), credits the Bushnell Center, which in recent years has been focusing on digital video technology, for suggesting “Warriors” feature archival footage in a “really active way.”
The archival images are not only effective stage craft but a message — especially to children — that a generation weaned on a steady stream of digital information can wade through the controversies and opinions and make their own choices.
“We premiered ‘Warriors’ at the Bushnell last week in performances for student and adult audiences, and we were overwhelmed by the impact it had,” said Waldman. “It’s never easy to get a room full of eighth-graders to open up, but this show stimulated wide-ranging and engaging conversations that went on until we ran out of time. Our adult audience was equally engaged, with many reflecting on their own experiences in the fight for social justice.”
“Warriors,” by playwright Donnetta Lavinia Graves, fuses together video technology, original music, spoken word, poetry and prose. It’s a blend of today’s young activist, smart phone in hand in front of a bank of school lockers, and overhead images of the 1950s Civil Rights Movement over head.
At the Bushnell, Waldman is responsible for booking the theater’s seven-show Broadway season, and is a member of The Broadway League, with Tony Award voting privileges. Waldman from 1995 to 2010 was marketing director and then programming director at the Capitol Center for the Arts, which last year opened the Bank of New Hampshire Stage at 16 Main St., down the street from its main venue.
Tickets are $7 to the school show at 10 a.m. Friday and $15-$25 for the 7 p.m. show. For more information, call 225-1111 or visit banknhstage.com.