Monday, February 23, 2009

Dead Man Walking: Interim 2009

Hello happy blog readers! Amanda here. Since it's been a while since I've written, I'll re-introduce myself. I'm a senior (wooo!!) theatre major from Alabaster, Alabama. I enjoy hot fudge sundaes, wildflowers, and dancing in the moonlight.

Okay. Now that you know me, we can get on to the real reason I'm writing. : )

I wanted to tell you guys about what happened in the BSC theatre during the month of January, 2009. January is our interim term at BSC, which means that everyone takes a break from normal classes and just takes one class for the whole month. For me, that means producing a show!

This year, we worked on Tim Robbins's Dead Man Walking during interim. You may have heard of the movie version, which won the Best Picture Oscar in 1995, starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon. It's the story of Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun who worked with prisoners on Louisiana's Death Row. The play tells tells about Helen's relationship with convict Matthew Poncelet, a fictional character who is based on the composite of two real-life prisoners.

For the show, I worked as assistant director alongside faculty director Professor Michael Flowers. I also played Marybeth Percy, the mother of the teenage girl who Matt Poncelet raped and murdered. It was an experience like none I have ever had before. I started working on it last November. I began my work as assistant director by attending meetings with the director Michael and each of the designers: student Matt Adams (sound designer, see his blog below), student Spurge Spurgeon (projections/video designer), students Liz Garrett and Lori Maddox (costume designers), student Connor McVey (co-lighting designer), professor Matthew Mielke (technical director, co-lighting designer, scenic designer), and teacher Mrs. Patti Manning (costume supervisor). I had no experience in directing, so this was a big adventure for me. I went home for Christmas break armed with Michael's copy of the directing class textbook and tons of ideas about technical details and characters spinning in my head. During the break, I kept Michael's cell phone number on speed dial as I worked to stage 2 scenes of the show all by myself.

The show is a difficult one for college students to produce. It asks kids our age to play characters who are beyond our ages and experiences. In order to help us connect with the characters, plot, and ideas of the play, we enlisted help from Dr. Robbie Baldwin, BSC graduate student alumnus and author of the book Life and Death Matters, a commentary on capital punishment. Robbie took some of our company members to visit Donaldson Prison, where we met and talked with some prisoners on Alabama's Death Row. It was an eye-opening experience. None of us knew what to expect. After we were searched and screened, we followed a prison officer through the facility. Robbie introduced us to four men who are on Death Row, and we were able to ask them questions about their daily lives, their families, their dreams, their spiritual beliefs, and other topics. We were all pretty shy at first, but I think that we all enjoyed listening to their voices.

Throughout the month, as we focused on creating a show, we also tried to learn about the issue of capital punishment from many different perspectives. We were able to hear about it from the eyes of religious leaders, political leaders, convicts and their families, victims and their families, prison staff, lawyers, and others. No matter where we each stand on the ideas of capital punishment at the end of the month, we all at least are more informed and better able to understand the complex issue. Isn't that what college is all about?

Ok, I'm done being serious. Here are some photos from our production. We were able to have some fun along the way! : )

They worked really hard.

Backstage with GingerBlack!

Old Age Makeup!

Ladies' Dressing Room

Goofin' Off!

A Victims' Support Group Meeting

Sister Helen and the Percys, parents of victim

Sister Helen and Mrs. Poncelet, Matt's mother

Mackenzie Smith as Matt Poncelet
Elisabeth Tutwiler as Sister Helen Prejean

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