Vivian’s Music: Hope Among Race Riots

Guild Hall, in partnership with Kate Mueth and The Neo-Political Cowgirls, brings a special new play on the topic of racism to our community on Thursday, Feb. 7.

Coming to the East End for one day only from an Off-Broadway run at 59E59 Theaters in New York, “Vivian’s Music, 1969” is based on the 1969 shooting of a 14-year-old girl by a white police officer in segregated North Omaha, Nebraska, which set off one of the worst race riots in American history. 

While the story of the riots is a matter of history, this fantasia for two actors, written by Monica Bauer, gives Vivian a life, a family, a love of music, and a reason to live: the jazz legend who’s back in the neighborhood might be her real father. The spartan set gives the two characters room to try to find one another as they move toward the inevitable conclusion.

“Vivian’s Music, 1969 is a poignant story of a girl’s hopeful life growing up in the days of the race riots,” said Ms. Mueth, who worked to bring the production to Guild Hall this month. “It’s a heart-centric reminder of the struggles humanity has suffered at the hands of an America fighting to find true Justice For All.”

This production is directed by Glory Kadigan, and stars Russell Jordan and Kailah S. King. Guild Hall will host a school performance at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 7, followed by an evening performance at 7 p.m. Tickets to the evening performance are $15 for general admission, $13 for Guild Hall members and $10 for students, and are available online at guildhall.org or by calling the box office at 631.324.4050.

The play has been getting heartfelt reviews in New York.

“It’s a dynamic show that is beautifully written, directed, designed and performed,” says StageBiz.com. “This show could be performed anywhere, with only candles or the light from an open fire and still completely move you to tears with its truth.”

The playwright, Monica Bauer, is a white woman who was a teenager in Omaha at the time of the riots, which took place 50 years ago this summer. On the night of June 24, 1969, police responded to a reported break-in at a housing project, and arrived to find a group of kids who’d been holding a party in an empty unit running out the back door of the building.

Police Officer James Loder fired one shot into the crowd, hitting Vivian Strong in the back of the head. She died immediately. A crowd quickly gathered and began a riot, and by the next evening a 10-block area was on fire. The police officer was later acquitted of a manslaughter charge.

“How exciting to produce a thematically relevant award-winning play as part of our year-round commitment to important theater in our community,” said John Drew Theater at Guild Hall’s Artistic Director, Josh Gladstone. “This is an evening not to be missed surrounding social issues that still exist and giving life to an innocent girl who fell victim to society’s hate.”

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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