Conservatory students honor MLK Day with “Big River” performance


Webster Groves enjoyed its 20th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Celebration at Steger Sixth Grade Center in Rock Hill, Missouri on Jan. 18.

The event incorporated many speeches and prayers, but also included performances from the Hudson and Edgar Road Elementary School Choirs, the North Webster Choir, the Praise Band of Riverside Community Church and two members of the Webster University Conservatory, juniors Bernell Lassai and Austin Jacobs.

Lassai and Jacobs, who have worked together in conservatory productions before, were assigned a scene from the musical “Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” They performed the scene last semester for their class final in their musical theatre scene study class, and they performed it again during the January celebration.

The musical is about two people of different races who come together in a time of segregation. The musical follows Huck Finn as he tries to help his friend Jim escape slavery.

Jacobs played Huck, and Bernell played Jim.

“We thought that was it and we would never do the scene again unless we did the actual show in full,” Jacobs said.

Then, a week before the Spring 2015 semester started, they were asked by director Lara Teeter to perform their scene from “Big River” at the celebration.

“It seemed like something that made sense,” Lassai said. “[The musical] deals with race relations, something that King pushed for.”

They had to perform on the Steger Sixth Grade Center stage with nothing more than chairs and sticks to simulate rowing. Lassai said the performance on stage at the celebration was more like their rehearsals last semester.

“We had to learn to adapt, but it’s something we’re used to and have to learn,” Lassai said.  “We just hoped the audience would be able to see what was going on. We had to work in this way for eight weeks last semester.”

Both Jacobs and Lassai agreed that they work well together, and their chemistry brought out a lot of creativity for the scene.

“We had a good collaboration,” Jacobs said. “He brings in a lot of new ideas and we bounce back and forth in ideas.”

Jacobs and Lassai received a standing ovation for their performance. Lassai said impacting people emotionally is the reason he performs.

“When you’re on stage and know that you affected people in a positive way, there’s no greater feeling,” Lassai said. “Doing this scene only in school amongst other actors and teachers who are critiquing you on every detail challenges you. To get praised is a great feeling.”

Jacobs said that he is proud to represent the Conservatory and Webster because theater is all about storytelling.

“That event is where many stories are being told,” Jacobs said.  “The Conservatory’s all about telling the story, and that particular event is a really good venue for what Webster has to offer.”

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