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It started as a living room discussion about race relations between two theater veterans. Now Storling Dance Theater is inspiring change in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It began with a conversation about race between two theater veterans in their living room. Jeremiah and Mona Enna have built their lives around making good theater.

All over the world, they have performed, choreographed, produced, and directed shows. In 1996, they moved to Kansas City to start The Culture House and Storling Dance Theater.

More than 20 years ago, another story about racial violence in the news lit a spark, which led to the idea for Underground.

Mona Enna, the artistic director of Underground, said, “The Underground Railroad is the story of blacks and whites working together to defeat this terrible evil.”

Underground was made with rousing original music, skilled dancers who had their own stories of racial tension and trauma, rough choreography, and about four years of work. When it first came out 16 years ago, critics loved it.

Every year, Christiane Lisabe comes from France to play Grandma Hattie in the play.

It’s more than just dancing to her.

“This play is about real people who helped slaves even though it put them in danger of being killed. Both blacks and whites lived there. The truth is coming out, and Lisabe said, “When we know the truth, we can be who we were meant to be.”

Tens of thousands of school-aged kids have taken part since 2008.

“It keeps getting bigger every year. “We realized that this one is different,” said the show’s producer, Jeremiah Enna.

He has gotten churches and schools to work together and has helped make a curriculum to go with Underground.

A few years ago, Dayton Moore, who used to be the general manager of the Kansas City Royals, was there. The performance makes a big difference. Moore called his friend Ray Jarrett to talk about what this generation could do to keep fighting racism. They started Unite KC together.

“It is a grass-roots movement based on faith that aims to bring people together. We don’t want to always talk about the problems. Instead, we want to be action-oriented and fix some of the things in our community that are tearing us apart. Jarett, who is now the executive director of Unite KC, said, “We want to talk to each other, learn about each other, and teach each other about our shared history.”

“Do a good thing” is the motto of the group. Unite KC will put out his first book at the Underground show next weekend. It’s about seven people in Kansas City who did good things that made their lives better.

Underground starts on February 3 and 4 at the Kauffman Performing Arts Center.

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