By Renee Larr
Empathy is an often overlooked human emotion. Conner Prairie is hoping to generate empathy through its November program, “Follow the North Star,” a participatory museum experience. Participants assume the roles of slaves journeying toward freedom through the Underground Railroad in 1836.
“It was developed to provide people and students with a historical and emotional connection to the Underground Railroad. And really we’re hoping to pay tribute to the African-Americans who lived through that horrible time,” CP Director of Programs Chris Petrelli said. “We want to create an experience that helps people empathize with people struggling for freedom. We don’t contend that the programs in any way compares to the actual hardships that enslaved people endured but we do believe it’s a powerful experience.”
Guests will travel as a group as they encounter different characters. Some characters are sympathetic to their plight, and some are dangerous. None of the horrors of slavery are depicted and no inappropriate language is used.
“One of the things that is important about the program is that the participants on the program assuming the role of slaves are going to meet a variety of people along the way. Those people have varied views,” Petrelli said. “Some of them are very racist antagonists, and some of them are sympathetic to their cause and want to help them. Others are more ambivalent.”
The program explores the choices Indiana residents were faced with during the time period: to help runaway slaves on their way to freedom or hold on to their deep-seated personal beliefs. Guests will go through a de-briefing of sorts at the end of the evening.
The program, in its 18th year, runs from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Nov. 17-19. Participants must be ages 12 or older. Anyone under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Tickets are $20 for non-members and $17 for members and are available online at connerprairie.org or by calling 317-776-6000.