Relevant Revolutionaries

In the '60s and '70s, young activists known as the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords provided food and health care to their impoverished, urban communities across the country while struggling to survive government attempts to dismantle their organizations. Today, these men and women are in their 60s and trying to come to terms with a difficult past and uncertain future.

"Party People," the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's mix-up of theater, poetry, jazz, blues, hip-hop, bolero and salsa, digs into the story and legacy of this American revolution.

"Party People" previews at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, July 5, opens at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, July 7, and runs through Nov. 3 in the New Theatre on the OSF campus, 15 S. Pioneer St., Ashland.

Liesl Tommy directs OSF actors and New York City-based performance group Universes — Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz Sapp and William Ruiz, aka Ninja — in an exploration of the complicated legacy of the Black Panthers and Puerto Rican Young Lords.

The drama begins when a gallery opens a showcase of art about the activities of the Panthers and Lords. Members of both groups come together to reflect on the past and present. The innermost thoughts of these characters are revealed through songs, poetic monologues and dance.

Universes spent a year interviewing members of these revolutionary parties to create a theatrical piece illustrating the groups' experiences and recollections.

"I think one of the most moving aspects of this project has been the content of these interviews," Tommy says in a video posted on OSF's website. "These people have been so generous, and they shared things that were surprising, moving and revolutionary. Things that are still so relevant today."

The Black Panther Party was active from 1966 to 1982. The party instituted a number of social programs to help the poor and improve access to health care in black communities, including free breakfast programs for inner-city children. Similarly, the Young Lords organized as a human-rights movement to provide food, health care and education for Latinos.

The FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover, saw these groups as a threat to the nation's security and had them infiltrated by undercover agents. Over time, the groups' community work was overshadowed by violence and militant activities.

"I want to make sure that, even though it is about an important movement in history, it (the show) is not an after-school special," Tommy says. "It is highly theatrical and extremely sophisticated in design, music and movement. As 21st-century artists, we have to look at how we tell stories today, even though it may have been about yesterday."

Tickets range from $21 to $92.50 and are available at or by calling the box office at 541-482-4331 or 800-219-8161.

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