'Price of Progress': New play explores Indiana Avenue stories

A new play authored by IUPUI's own Vernon A. Williams examines 80 years of history along historic Indiana Avenue, from bebop to hip-hop.

"The Price of Progress" is a two-hour, two-act show inspired by the 2010 book of the same name, written by anthropology professor Paul Mullins and Glenn White, as well as the rich history of the Indiana Avenue District, the Ransom Place neighborhood and the growth of the IUPUI campus.

From left, John Hayes and Jay Fuqua rehearse a scene in 'Price of Progress'View print quality image
John Hayes, left, and Jay Fuqua rehearse a scene from "The Price of Progress." Photo by Tim Brouk, Indiana University

The first act focuses on the music, fashion and businesses along Indiana Avenue. Names like Madam C.J. Walker, jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery and basketball legend Oscar Robertson abound. The second act tells IUPUI history through scenes portraying IUPUI's founding with a re-creation of a radio interview with former Indianapolis Mayor Richard Lugar, breakthroughs by the Indiana University School of Medicine, the IUPUI 50th Anniversary Birthday Bash and much more.

"There will be some people in attendance who lived this show," said Williams, a communications and community engagement strategist who also wrote 2018's "Divine Nine," which was staged in the Campus Center Theater. "Most will know much more than we could possibly convey onstage, and there will be some who will learn from it."

Sponsored by the IUPUI Multicultural Center and the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, "The Price for Progress" will be staged March 19, 20 and 22 at the Campus Center. All of the 6 p.m. shows are sold out, but more may be added, according to Williams.

Williams and director Marvin Bardo, who received his master's degree from the School of Education in 2018, will present a multimedia play with live music, dance, video, and a cast of community and IUPUI performers. Bardo said he first became interested in the history of Indiana Avenue when he was a high school student in northwest Indiana. Classmates moving to Indianapolis to attend IUPUI raised his awareness even more.

"But I had no idea about the combination of the two," said Bardo, who has directed shows at the Walker Theatre, "and I had no idea about the amount of rich history that was associated with both."

Jay Fuqua, who earned a bachelor's degree from the Herron School of Art and Design in 2015, portrays a preacher on the night Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in "The Price of Progress." The young actor sings and raps in other scenes, too. Fuqua cherishes his years at IUPUI and says his performance has brought him greater appreciation for the history that surrounds the campus.

"Coming into this play, I was completely surprised by the history of IUPUI -- how it all began," Fuqua said. "I had no idea of the struggle and the price it actually cost to have this establishment that we have here today."

John Hayes, who works in the payroll department in the Office of Financial Services, has been at IUPUI for just a few months, but he brings 40 years of theater experience to the show. As a new Jaguar, he, too, was impressed by the history around the university and how Williams and Bardo were able to transform the stories to the stage.

"I've learned more in this show than any other in my 40 years," said Hayes, who portrays an IUPUI English professor throughout "The Price of Progress." "It's informational, and it's entertaining."