The organization Ordinary People Project will bring a unique performance to the Vineyard this weekend. On Saturday night, actor Gerald C. Rivers will present “An Intimate Evening with Dr. King,” a one-man show in which the actor doesn’t perform from a set script but improvises a conversation with the audience using the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Mr. Rivers will present two shows on Saturday: a special youth-oriented version of the show in the afternoon, and an evening performance which will include songs and a demonstration by speed painter Zach Brown, who will create a portrait of Dr. King on site.
Mr. Rivers, a successful actor and voiceover artist, has been providing the voice of Dr. King for media and events for decades. He has created three shows using the civil rights leader’s words in dramatic form. Mr. Rivers is considered by some to be one of the foremost scholars on Dr. King. The actor has also interviewed many who knew the civil rights legend.
“I’ve met his wife and his children, his sister and his best friend,” Mr. Rivers told The Times in a phone interview. “In my travels I’ve met people who knew Dr. King, and who gave me stories and anecdotes. Sometimes I feel like he’s a presence in my life.”
“A lot of people say that I sound just like King. Some people suggest that I’m channeling him. I’ve studied the teaching and philosophy, and I’m very passionate about the work I do.”
The videos on Mr. Rivers’ website demonstrate the power of the actor’s performances. He captures not only the voice of Dr. King, his modulation and gestures, but also manages to bring the same conviction and emotion to his hero’s words. “For me it’s almost like doing the speech for the first time,” Mr. Rivers said.
Dr. King’s teachings didn’t only inspire Mr. Rivers’ work, but also his personal life. “I grew up in Compton,” Mr. Rivers said. “I had to go from growing up in that environment with Crips and Bloods, drugs and violence, to promoting peace, love, and nonviolence. I have applied these principles to my own life. I know that they work with practical applications.”
Mr. Rivers has taken his shows to schools, libraries, rehab centers, and many other venues to spread the word. He also teaches acting classes and traditional African djembe drumming to students of all ages.
A classically trained Shakespearean actor, Mr. Rivers is a company member at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga, Calif., where he is currently playing the lead in the show “Tom,” a new adaptation of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
He is also a voiceover artist for commercials and well-known video games such as “World of Warcraft,” “Final Fantasy,” “Street Fighter,” and “Mortal Kombat,” and he has voiced characters in Disney movies and animated television shows.
Sheryl Piland, founder and director of the Ordinary People Project, was introduced to the work of Mr. Rivers years ago at an event in California. “King just took over his whole body,” she said. “You could hear a pin drop. You had goosebumps.”
Later, Piland connected with the actor through his work as a drummer while she was producing a musical show with children from Africa. She decided that this year, the timing was perfect for Mr. Rivers’ inspiring show.
“In light of what was happening — all these young people getting shot and killed — I thought, ‘Something has to be done,’” Ms. Piland said.
The Ordinary People Project was founded three years ago with a mission to present performances with a message. According to a press release, the Ordinary People Project was birthed in 2014 out of the need for “’ordinary’ people to come together and contribute their creative humanitarian potential to empower, uplift, and serve their fellow man.”
“It’s about consciousness,” Ms. Piland said. “A lot of our youth are growing up not knowing about our past. We have the privilege of standing on the backs of others who paved the way.”
She hopes to do her part in spreading a message through the teachings of Dr. King. “King is gone. His words live on,” she said. “We still have to be the catalyst in order to make these changes happen. I’m an ordinary person. I’m looking for ordinary people to do extraordinary things. It takes the ordinary to make the extraordinary.”
“An Intimate Evening with Dr. King”: Saturday, August 27, Union Chapel, Oak Bluffs, 7 pm. Special performance for youth at 3:30 pm. First 30 children under 17 will be admitted free. Tickets for both performances are $15 to $25, and can be purchased through ticketriver.com/ordinarypeopleproject.