Wings on the Wind celebrated the founding of the Maryland colony and the establishment of religious freedom by law. Written by the famed playwright Kermit Hunter, the play focused on the years of 1633-1647 and the tensions that arose betwixt the Catholic and Protestant settlers. Beginning in England, Wings followed the settlers across the Atlantic to St. Mary’s City, Maryland’s former capital.
Once in Maryland, the hardships faced by the Catholics manifested itself in the form of the Virginian Protestants who disliked their new neighbors. This dislike stressed the Chesapeake region, specifically the Catholics in Maryland. But as the play progressed the Marylanders persevered and established religious toleration unbeknownst in the English New World. As Wings explained, the actions of the Maryland colonists set the stage for future generations to continue the tradition, markedly the Americans who would take over the region and institute the First Amendment.
The play began production in the 1970s. The materials protected within the collection are in good quality and offer insight into the cast and crew of Wings. In the 1976 souvenir brochure Denzel Washington, the famous American actor, was amongst the many actors and actresses credited with bringing the play to life. Washington, who had yet to become a Hollywood leading man, lent his talents as the narrator and Mathias da Suasam, an indentured servant, in Wings. Also within the collection are letters, pamphlets, and formal invitations promoting the play that highlighted one of the New Worlds first attempts at creating religious freedom.*
*While Maryland took strides in legally recognizing religious freedom, their religious freedom law was meant strictly for Christians. Other religions were not recognized.
The Amendments: http://constitutioncenter.org/constitution/the-amendments
Continuing Paul Green’s (a Pulitzer winning playwright) long standing tradition of creating remarkable historical dramas, Louisiana Cavalier explores the dynamic atmosphere of early 18th century Louisiana. Chronicling the life of Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, a French Canadian, the play explored the volatile relationship between the Spanish, French, and Native populations of Louisiana and St. Denis’s role as mediator between them. Each nationality claimed similar areas of land and disputed the other’s authority to encroach on their property. With so much tension between the three different nationalities, St. Denis was pivotal to the development of the region as he was one of the very few people who successfully mitigated the tensions and promoted peace. St. Denis therefore went between the three rivals to mollify the uneasiness of the region, and the play rightfully transports the audience from Red River Valley, to Mexico City (where St. Denis spent 6 months in jail), and back to Louisiana, showing St. Denis’ wide range of operation.
Louisiana Cavalier debuted in Read more
While around here in North Carolina, many people are familiar with Kermit Hunter’s Unto These Hills which has been performed in Cherokee for 65 years now (albeit recently with a new script), fewer may know that there was a sequel of sorts out in Tahlequah, Oklahoma at the western terminus of the infamous Trail of Tears. The story of Unto These Hills concerns the Cherokee prior to their forced removal in 1838 while The Trail of Tears centered around the events from the journey west, through the Civil War and ending with the Oklahoma’s statehood in 1907.The Trail of Tears was performed with a couple of exceptions from 1969-1996. Other authors wrote versions which were performed through 2005 but economics have recently resulted in the closure of all performances at the Cherokee Heritage Center.
Souvenir Program from The Trail of Tears, 1973
The prologue starts us off with an old Read more
The Stephen Foster Story, by Paul Green, represents success in outdoor theatre. Housed within the Institute’s collection are souvenir programs, brochures, tickets, letters, scripts, and photographs (to name a few) ranging from the 1950s to the 2000s. The sheer number and the vast variety of materials associated with The Stephen Foster Story alone speak volumes of the play’s triumph and importance to outdoor theatre.
A symphonic drama, The Stephen Foster Story examines the life of America’s first great composer, Stephen Foster. Specifically, the play chronicles the composer’s time spent in Kentucky and the influences it had on him and his music. The play incorporates many of Stephen Foster’s most beloved and iconic pieces such as “Oh! Susanna” and “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” to tell of Foster’s prestigious rise to America’s favorite composer. The lively storytelling and iconic music combined with the elaborate costumes and sets transport the audience back to the 1850s and into the fanciful life of Stephen Foster.
Boasting the status of Kentucky’s official outdoor musical, Read more
The Promise in Glen Rose, Texas is a production that depicts Jesus’ entire life: birth, ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Efforts to create such a play began in the mid-1980s, coming to fruition in 1989. For the first time in its 27 season history, The Promise is being performed in the spring every weekend throughout April and May, and will also have its fall performances as normal beginning in September. Like many other religious plays, a variety of animals (horses, camels, donkeys, and many other animals that would be found in Jerusalem at the time) take important roles in the making the scenes realistic.
In 1993 and then again in 1994, The Promise took their production to Moscow, Russia, being the first Christian production allowed following the fall of Communism, Read more
Power & Light Productions in Wauchula, Florida alternate years producing The Story of Noah and The Story of Jesus. This year, they are producing The Story of Jesus. It was written and developed by Mike Graham, 2015 recipient of the Mark Summer Award. In 1984, it started as a skit at a local church and later developed into a stage play at a second local congregation. In 1990, it was decided to create a larger production and moved to the Cattleman’s Arena on the outskirts of Wachula.
The production is the portrayal of Jesus’ life, beginning with the Christmas story and his birth in a manager. It continues through his life, telling the Bible stories of miracles he performed and concludes Read more
Passion plays originated in Europe during the Middle Ages as a way of teaching the general population, who could not read nor write, about Christianity. The plays specifically highlight the suffering, death, and resurrection in the final week of Jesus’ life. There are other plays that cover a larger span of Jesus’ life, and can even include his birth. Throughout the week, we will be highlighting some of the passion plays found in the Institute of Outdoor Theatre’s archives.
A street in Jerusalem – Jesus makes his triumphal entry, 1990.
The first passion play we are highlighting was one of the first established in the United States, Black Hills Passion Play in South Dakota. In 1932, Josef Meier arrived in New York from Germany Read more
Beyond the unproduced dramas previously mentioned, there was one that was never produced in any form that Frank Lewin was high involved with. Lewin was not only a member of the New Jersey Historical Drama Association (NJHDA), who was responsible for this drama, but he was also to be the composer. The early title was The Day is Ours, but it was changed to In Freedom We’ll Live. It was to recount the ten days during the American Revolution between battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton, including George Washington and the Continental Army’s crossing the Delaware River in late December 1777 to early January 1778.
Synopsis of “The Day is Ours,” an early title for what would become “In Freedom We’ll Live.”
An early version of The Day is Ours synopsis shows lives being interwoven beginning with the Battle of Princeton. A young British sergeant, Richard Herrington, living with a widow and her daughter and son; a young Hessian in Von Lossberg’s regiment; a bitter Abijah Eastman, part of Glover’s Marbleheaders; and Colonel Johann Gottlieb Rall who is received in the home of Abraham Hunt, a respected citizen of Trenton and sympathizes with the Tories.
Prospectus for potential investors of “In Freedom We’ll Live.”
The prospectus for the renamed drama, In Freedom We’ll Live, claims “the drama will entertain as well as instruct its audiences, and serve to reaffirm the truths which the Colonists found so self-evident.” Unlike the earlier version, the prospectus does not give an in-depth look at what the drama will be about or the wide range of figures; instead, it says “well-known historic personages – such as General Washington, the Hessian Colonel Rall, and the Britisher Mawhood – as well as lesser-known authentic figures and invented characters” will be central.
Beginning in 1970, NJHDA had four phases it outlined to reach successful Read more
Not all outdoor productions meet with success. In the late 1980s, Indiana saw its very first outdoor drama, The Battle of Tippecanoe. But the production proved short lived, closing in 1991. During its short run, only about 19% of the outdoor amphitheater–which was specifically built for The Battle– was filled at a time. The town of Tippecanoe estimated it would take until 1999 to cover the $3 million price tag attached to the amphitheaters construction. A harsh reality for the town relying on the promised success of the play to draw in tourist revenue. Despite the plays failure, one common theme amongst the critics shined through. The writers Dr. Dale Miller and Dr. Sam Smiley highlighted a moment of history often neglected, and, more importantly, they portrayed both the American William Harrison and the Shawnee Tecumseh as capable leaders fighting for justice.
OSF brochure from 1961. Photo by Dwaine E. Smith.
In a few rare cases, the establishment and growth of an outdoor theatre production is as exciting as the performances. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival with its roots going back to 1935, is indeed one of these. From the remains of an old Chautauqua building, Southern Oregon Normal School professor Angus L. Bowmer established an Elizabethan theatre festival in the small town of Ashland, Oregon. As unlikely a location as any to find a Shakespearean theatre, the festival and the town prospered. Not confined to the works of the Bard, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has grown over the years into a multi-stage, indoor and outdoor affair, annually bringing in over 100,000 people and contributing over 85 million dollars to the local economy (according to ye olde Wikipedia). Read more