The Scottsboro Boys have come from eternity to the theater we are in to reenact as “vaudeville” scenes the story of their convictions for gang rape, despite prima facie evidence of their innocence. The historical event was, in many ways, something of a vaudeville. But also, as revealed early on, the first four of the nine to get released (after seven years), appeared within a matter of weeks in a New York vaudeville show.
The Scottsboro case commenced in 1931 when a fight aboard a freight train between black and whites resulted in the train being stopped in Scottsboro, Alabama. Nine African-Americans, ages 13-20, were arrested. They were not all involved in or even aware of the fight and the few whites who were caught were not arrested. Among the whites were two women dressed in men’s overalls. They accused the nine blacks of rape and the case of the Scottsboro Boys ensued.
The case highlighted several elements of American culture. One in particular was the exploitation of racism by the two women who falsely accused these young black men; the flip-side to which was the Communist Party’s exploitation of racism in its efforts to recruit African Americans.
Not in the national spotlight that the case became – but very much in the spotlight onstage – are the nine young men themselves, each having to cope individually and as a group with an event of this magnitude and with each other.
The cast is composed of nine African-American actors, representing the nine Scottsboro Boys. To reenact their story, they portray all the characters – male, female, black, and white. To portray the females, at least two of the actors are females, and they play the roles of the youngest Scottsboro Boys. To portray the white characters, half-masks are used.