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In 1972, activists unveiled St. Louis’ Veiled Prophet. A new play tells their story

A collage of two photos, one of Percy Green wearing a beret, and a seated Miles Brenton, wearing a dark suit and jacket.
Evie Hemphill/Danny Wicentowski
Activist Percy Green (left, photographed in 2019) will be played by actor Miles Brenton in the upcoming play "Action."

One of the most audacious protests in St. Louis history is the inspiration behind a new play chronicling the efforts of the activist group ACTION — which in 1972 sent members to infiltrate the Veiled Prophet Ball.

That operation, which dramatically unveiled that year’s Veiled Prophet, is among the subjects of the play “Action,” opening Nov. 11. The play covers the true story of the group’s founder, Percy Green, and the targeting of the Veiled Prophet Ball.

Written by Colin McLaughlin, the play is based on interviews with Green and members of the movement. On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, director and co-producer Kathryn Bentley noted that the history of Action includes multiple moments of high-stakes heroics — including the incident in 1964 when Green and another activist scaled 125 feet up a construction ladder on the unfinished north leg to of the Gateway Arch to protest the project’s lack of Black workers.

"Action" director Kathryn Bentley, who also co-produced the play. Bentley is a professor of theater performance at Southern Illinois University.
Danny Wicentowski
"Action" director Kathryn Bentley, who also co-produced the play. Bentley is a professor of theater performance at Southern Illinois University.

“This could be a play that's like 10 hours long, right? I mean, how do you find one thing about Percy?” said Bentley, an associate professor of theater performance at Southern Illinois University and artistic director at the Black Theatre Workshop. She added:

“What I've really enjoyed getting to know more about [Action] is that sense of theater that was involved. … The fact that they used a lot of theatricality in their activism really intrigues me, it definitely informs this production.”

Miles Brenton, who plays Green in the play, told St. Louis on the Air guest host Jeremy Goodwin that getting to meet Green in person while researching the role was “an incredible occurrence.”

“We’re not only just telling a story about people who are fighting for change, fighting, fighting against racism, but it's also a St. Louis story,” Brenton said. “We know these people, and we've met these people, and we see these people on the street."

The play is being produced by a new collective of St. Louis theater-makers that includes Kathryn Bentley, Delaney Piggins, Colin McLaughlin and Joan Suarez. Admission is free,but you can reserve a ticket at go.actionartstl.org/tickets or email actionartstl@gmail.com for more information. Performances run through Nov. 20.

There will be two post-show discussions featuring actors and the figures portrayed in the play. After the Nov. 13 show, the discussion will include Alicia Hernandez of Missouri Jobs with Justice and Ashli Bolden of the Democracy Initiative. On Nov. 20, the discussion will feature activist Percy Green II, activist Jane Suaer, Miles Brenton and Lize Lewy.

Related Event
What: “Action”
When: Nov. 11-13 and Nov. 17-20
Where: Gaslight Theater (358 N. Boyle Ave., St. Louis, MO 63108)

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."