Schaumburg Black History Month play pays tribute to tradition's founder
Schaumburg's annual original Black History Month play will be dedicated this time to longtime resident Valerie Profit, who started the tradition 21 years ago and died in December at age 69.
As he has for years, Profit's son, Maurice D. Proffit, has written, produced and directed the new show, titled "Mind Games." It will be staged at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, at the Al Larson Prairie Center for the Arts, 201 Schaumburg Court in Schaumburg, and followed by a tribute to Proffit's mother.
Based on the true story of a prison-inmate debate team's defeat of Harvard University's squad in 2015, the story highlights the importance of education and perseverance, Proffit said.
The play also explores some of the systemic plights inmates -- particularly those of color -- face within correctional facilities, he said.
One thing that remains true of this year's show is that it is appropriate for all audiences and includes ample doses of heart and humor. Though the protagonists this time are prison inmates, Proffit said, they are introduced in a way to make them quickly relatable and the focus is very much on their pursuit of a second chance. This is true of all participants in the real-life Bard Prison Initiative that helped prepare the 2015 debate team, Proffit said.
"These are the men and women who are very serious about their studies," he said. "They want to excel."
Though an accomplished playwright, Proffit's first experience of writing about real people and true events was his 2018 dramatization of the final 24 hours of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The research on this year's play was different in that he could meet and speak with members of the educational program and even one of the inmates, now freed, who was on the winning debate team.
While staying true to the general story, Proffit exercised some creative license with personalities, names and number of the debate team members. He said the real story is relatively straightforward, but he introduced some dramatic nuances to underscore the message.
Proffit also said it was just as important that the Harvard debate team not be turned into the villains of the story.
His inspiration came in 2015 when he read a magazine article about the prison debate team's then-recent victory and was immediately struck by its similarity to a traditionally Disney-style narrative.
He started work on the script last summer and was supposed to wrap it up in early December when the project came to a halt due to his mother's death. She founded the local theater company Powerhouse Productions in addition to her work as employment coordinator for Schaumburg, Palatine and Wheeling townships.
Proffit said he found it hard to return to work but could feel his mother's presence as soon as he forced himself to complete the script.
"It felt so organic," he said. "I felt like she was really with me. After that happened, I felt so much more at peace."
In addition to the tribute to his mother, the end of the show will feature a gallery of artwork made by Cook County inmates.