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Inherit the Wind

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Auditions for INHERIT THE WIND

ACT’s next major production, partnering with Trinity United Church, Charlottetown, is INHERIT THE WIND.  Auditions are Sat.-Sun., Nov. 23-24, 1:00-5:00 p.m.  Rehearsals begin mid-January for performance April 24-27 in Trinity’s hall.  The Director is John Moses.  The SM is Sharon MacDonald.  Contact her for an audition time: sheamacd@gmail.com, or 432-2317.  Auditioners have the option of preparing a short monologue from any modern play.  Experience is not a requirement.

INHERIT THE WIND is based on a real courtroom case, the so-called “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925, in the town of Dayton, Tennessee.  At that time, and right until 1967, the state had a law against the teaching of evolution in its schools.  A number of local citizens decided to challenge this law with a show trial – chiefly in order to profit from the publicity.  They persuaded John Scopes, a substitute teacher (who might have presented the evolution chapter from the state-sponsored textbook he was using in one class period; he couldn’t remember), to act as defendant, and they persuaded two famous national figures to be counsels on either side.  For the prosecution they secured William Jennings Bryan, a fundamentalist Christian who had been the Democratic nominee for President three times, and for the defence they had a famous Chicago lawyer, Clarence Darrow, an agnostic who had recently defended two notorious killers.  The two were considered to be among the greatest orators of their day.

During the trial the Judge refused to hear any of the defence’s expert witnesses, ruling that their plausible explanations of evolution were irrelevant to the question of whether Scopes had broken the law.  In a highly irregular proceeding, Darrow called Bryan himself was as an expert witness on the Bible, in order to ridicule his views on creation.  The tactic worked – but still, Scopes was found guilty.

This trial, a battle of giants—which pitted a literal interpretation of the Bible against modern science,  unexamined faith against the right to think, the rural U.S. south against the urbanized north – did indeed garner publicity.  In fact it was the first-ever media circus.  It was covered by 200 journalists, who daily filed about 165,00 words that went round the world.  It was the first trial to be broadcast on live radio.  Hawkers of all kinds came to town to profit from the crowds.  Trained chimpanzees performed on the courthouse lawn.  Today the courthouse itself is preserved as an historic landmark, and features re-enactments of parts of the trial.

Both sides claimed victory, the fundamentalists because the law was upheld (though Scopes was fined only $100 and the verdict was later overturned on a technicality), and the modernists because widespread scorn was heaped on the other side.

INHERIT THE WIND was first performed in 1955.  It played on Broadway for two years, and at the Old Vic in London, and it has been revived in professional and amateur theatres many times.  It was made into a movie and into films for television, with famous actors in the leading roles.  The authors, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, have said that in 1955 they wanted to draw attention to another attack on freedom of thought, the witch-hunts of the McCarthy era.  But the play’s original theme continues to resonate on its own, and is sufficient reason for further performances.  Creationism, as we now call it, is far from dead and the theory of evolution is far from explaining everything.  There are many – including President George W. Bush – who argue that the two sides should be given equal footing in schools.  Many church-goers are not sure what to make of the Biblical story of creation, and many non-religious people are quite ignorant of modern evolutionary theory.  In any case, the fight against unthinking dogmatism must be taken up by every generation.

INHERIT THE WIND is gripping courtroom drama.  To enhance the drama it takes several liberties with the facts, and the preface explicitly rejects the notion that the play is “history.”  The names of the two leading characters are changed to Matthew Harrison Brady and Henry Drummond.  A real-life, wise-cracking journalist, H.L. Mencken (who invented the phrase “monkey trial”) is here E.K. Hornbeck, who provides an element of humour in the play.  John Scopes is Bertram Cates.  There are many other fascinating characters in the cast, some entirely fictitious: Rev. Jeremiah Brown who preaches hell-fire for sinners like Cates; his daughter Rachel, who loves Cates but is under her father’s thumb and is impressed by Brady; the biased Judge; the Mayor; the Jailer; two children in Cates’ class, a mountain man; a radio broadcaster; Brady’s wife; members of the jury and the Ladies’ Aid, and other townspeople.  The town itself is “Hillsboro,” which could be almost any town in the American south.  So strong and popular is the play that many viewers take it to be, literally, the Scopes Monkey Trial.

ACT (a community theatre) and Trinity United Church have combined to put on this drama April 24-27, 2014, in Trinity’s church hall.  The first two performances will be dinner theatre.  For all performances, auditioners who don’t secure a speaking part will be invited to be characters in the drama, townspeople in costume, who freely ad lib their own attitudes towards the trial, as they welcome the visitors to their town, serve them food, and take as much money from them as they can. 

There are twenty speaking roles.  They include only four parts for women, but the Director may dress some women as men.  The extras as above can be of either gender, all female if necessary. 

A strong production team is behind this play.  The Director is John Moses, the Minister at Trinity United, who has directed this play elsewhere, as well as several other plays at Trinity.  The Stage Manager is Sharon MacDonald (Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream) who has taught the play in high school.  The Producer is Jennifer Shields, and the Costume Designer is Pam Jewell.  Other team members are Terry Pratt and Rob Thomson.

Successful auditioners must be either members of the Trinity congregation or members of ACT.  They should also be prepared to assist this show or another as crew members, in the spirit of community theatre.

Posted by ACT One Editor on 10/02 at 06:21 PM
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