How Indiana Interacts with its Past

with Catherine Hughes of Conner Prairie Interactive History Park and Willie Bates III

Indiana Education

Director of Interpretation and Evaluation at Conner Prairie, Catherine Hughes, tells of the recent, national recognition CP has received from the American Alliance of Museums.  Elsewhere, Hughes and guest, Willie Bates III, highlight CP’s partnership with the Asante Children’s Theatre to produce More Light: Douglass Returns.  “More Light” features performers from the Asante Children’s Theatre and is a Main Street Production in association with Roberts Settlement. The play is supported by the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation and is part of the Giving Voice Initiative, which focuses on the African-American presence in Indiana history. Spanning nearly 1,000 wooded acres in central Indiana, Conner Prairie Interactive History Park welcomes nearly 400,000 visitors of all ages annually.

Performances of More Light: Douglass Returns are 7 p.m. July 27, 3 p.m. July 29, 7 p.m. July 30, 3 p.m. Aug. 5 and 7 p.m. Aug. 6.  All performances are in Lilly Theater; inside the Welcome Center at Conner Prairie, located at 13400 Allisonville Rd., Fishers, IN 46038.

Interview recorded on July 12, 2017.  Hosted by Taylor Bennett. Part 1 of 1.

Read a partial transcript of this interview below:

Bennett: Well, Conner Prairie is no stranger to national awards, but, most recently, the William Conner House exhibit is what made headlines, tell me about that.

Hughes: Well, we received an award for excellence for re-imagining our Conner House and that is a little bit different.  We have done something different than other museums.  We have taken out all of those period rooms that you expect when you come to a historic home and we have reimagined what you can do in those rooms. We try to still give you those historical elements and objects but we’ve also added those interactive elements.  We’ve asked ourselves some pretty big questions about William Conner; who he was and why we keep a house like this.

Bennett: Talk to me about the growing theatre program.

Hughes: We have been doing theatre for many, many years.  More recently we have had a collaboration with the Asante Children’s Theatre in Indianapolis.  Through that collaboration we have an initiative called the Giving Voice. It is about, really, making more prominent the African American presence in Indiana’s history. We hired a playright to create three plays. What we are in rehearsal for today is More Light: Douglass Returns; looking at the moment in time when Frederick Douglass came to Noblesville to speak during the election of President Garfield.

Bennett: We have an actor from that play, Willie Bates III…tell me about it.

Bates III: I play William P. Roberts; a 37-year old man of the Roberts family. He is fond of black, free people and is out to find help with that. He meets Frederick Douglass as Douglass is traveling to Noblesville.

Hughes: The playwright imagined what it might have been like for Douglass to return to Indiana, in 1880; at the request of a committee which included William. Again, Roberts was a vocal man; trying to get the vote for the colored man, so he (Bates) is playing this actual man.