North Carolina Newspapers

    Page 4
The N.C. Essay
Students Take Theatre To N. C. Prisons
tour. Many were indecisive about amazement, among other things,
what they felt. One person said he Most were sorry that they
felt hate, anger, sorrow, pity, couldn’t do more,
surprise, disdain, and -Frank Wolff
The Director’s View
It was a mild September night (I had just completed my last official
performance of “Tales from the Toybox”) and I remember thinking
as I lay in a hammock over Bill Dryer’s porch how very unobligated I
was to anything this year when suddenly John Wo^on appeared
from nowhere. I sipped my Black Label while John stared at me with
red rimmed eyes. After a moment he spoke. His wor^ were somewhat
slurred but their meaning quite clear. He wanted to take a play to llie
irisons of North Carolina. I stared at him for a moment and thought.
Finally I told him (my own words somewhat slurred) that if he’d make
the arrangements. I’d direct the play.
It was to our great surprise that North Carolina has more than
seventy-three prisons to its name. It was also to our siuprise that Gov.
Scott of N.C. highly approved of Woodson’s proposal to take a show to
the i^isons and immediately contacted prison officials. Such interest
was important and encouraging to the project especially wift so much
preliminary work yet to be done. Which prisons were to be toured?
When would be the best time to do it? Who was going to finance the
tour? What was the best play to take? What about the cast? What
about the technical crew?
The state tipped the bill for transportation and housing. December
seventeenth through the twenty-first was our tour date. Five in
stitutions in the Sleigh area were our houses. Requiem for a
Heavyweight was our play. A personal note from Rod Serling gave us
prrmission to perform his teleplay in stage-play from without royalty
payment. And last but never least a cast and crew was assembled.
Rehearsals officially began November tenth. A performance was
given for the school on December fifteenth. By the night of the
seventeenth we were presenting our first show in Oie cafeteria of
Central Youth Prison.
The inmates of the Raleigh prisons have an edge over most of us as
an audience. They are very open and very involved. Most of them
found humor in scenes we had t» look at t^^ce to understand. It was
difficult for us to see the humor in a man smashing his fist into a desk
out of frustration, but apparently not for them. Possibly because
they’ve felt the same frustration or performed the same action on
something other than a desk. There were some inmates who laughed
just to be heard. There were some who never laughed. There were
some who watched like excited children. And there were others who
smiled and nodded with understanding.
Everyone did a lot of Rowing during the tour and the play itself
improved with each audience. The actors (Steve Henderson, Tom
Hulce, Woodson, Steve Evans, Henry Pankey, Frank Wolff, Marilyn
McIntyre, Monte McIntyre) talked with as many inmates as possible
while the technical crew (Robin I^er, Joe Henderspn, and, Jonathan
Bustle) were assisted by inmates who helped to set up lights and set
the stage. All too often however we found ourselves so well guarded
that contact with the inmates was impossible. Our two singers
(Cynthia Gibson and Paulette Pearson) helped to crack that barrier.
There are many prisons in North Carolina. That means a lot of
deprived audiences. The show and its story mean nothing unless other
tours take its place. For now it is only a beginning. Let’s hope it doesn’t
turn into a novelty. -DUKE ERNSBERGER
Last month, during the first
part of Christmas Vacation,
fifteen students from the school
of the Arts toured the play
Requiem for a Heavyweight to
five different prisons in the
Raleigh area. The students were
John Woodson, Arthur Ern-
sberger, Tom Hulce, Steve
Henderson, Marilyn tMcIn^e,
Monte McIntyre, Henry Parikey,
Steve Evans, John Thompson,
Jonathan Bustle, Joe Henderson,
Kevin Dreyer, Paulette Pearson,
Cynthia Gibson, and Frank Wolff.
The idea for the tour came to
John Woodson while he was
listening to the record album
Johimy Cash at San Quentin. On
October 6th, Governor Scott
visited the campus and John
approached him with the
proposal of taking a play into the
prisons. The following day John
got a phone call from George
Randall, the assistant head of
The Department of Corrections,
to set up a meeting to discuss
John’s proposal. At that meeting,
a few days later, the proposal
was accepted, the budget cut, and
a tentative date was set.
Woodson, upon returning to the
school, asked Arthur Emsberger
to direct the play Requiem for a
Heavyweight to take into the
prisons. Arthur (known as Duke)
agreed and a cast was selected
and rehearsals began. Pauletta
Pearson and Cynthia tiibson
were asked to come on the tour
and sing popular songs before
each performance. Rod Serling,
who wrote the play originally as a
television drama was contacted.
Mr. Serling gave permission to
rewrite the play for the stage and
for production rights without
oyalty payments.
on .he 14th of December Sam
Stone arranged for a scene of the
play to be preformed for inmates
in a jobs program for ex-
Offenders. The scene was done in
an office room and afterward
there was a discussion of the
material and the idea of a prison
tour. Everyone approved. The
following day the same inmates
that had viewed the scene at
tended the first performance of
the play version of Requiem for a
Heavyweight.
On the 17th the tour began. The
props and the lighting package
were hauled in prison trucks
throughout the tour. Upon
arriving at Central prison, the
tour was moved into a state
owned dormitory conmionly used
to house criminology students.
The first performance was held
that night at Central Youth
Prison. All the inmates were
allowed to attend, including one
boy who was in segregation.
After the show the players were
allowed to talk to the inmates for
a while and, of course, the girls
got the most attention. After the
perform^ce the props and lights
were packed up in a prison truck
and parked outside the main waU
of Central Prison where it was
watched all night. This was
standard procedure.
The following day the tour
played two performances at
Central Prison, a maximum
security prison. In between
shows there was a tour of the
prison, including the hospital, a
couple of cell blocks, the arsenal,
and the gas chamber, a two
seater model. Only a very small
number of inmates were allowed
to see the play because of the
tight security.
The next day, the 19th, the cast
performed two plays at North
Centfal, a minimum security
prison. The stage was a very
small meeting room resembling
a chapel. There was no
wingspace and all the entrances
had to be made from the front of
the stage. On the 20th, there were
two more performances at Polk
Youth Prison. In between shows,
several scenes of the play were
filmed for use in a document^
to be made about the tour by John
Woodson and Duke Emsterger.
The last show was performed at
the women’s prison.
After the tour the cast ex
pressed their reactions to the
    

Page Text

This is the computer-generated OCR text representation of this newspaper page. It may be empty, if no text could be automatically recognized. This data is also available in Plain Text and XML formats.

Return to page view