Civil War “Letters Play” to be held in Western Pennsylvania.
Mark your calendars:
On Friday, May 12, 2017, Darlington, Pennsylvania’s Little Beaver Historical Society will present the award-winning Civil War play by Frank W. Wicks at the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center, Midland, Pennsylvania. “Soldier, Come Home” is based on the Civil War letters of Wicks’ great-grandparents, who lived not far from the Darlington/Midland area.
According to Dave Holoweiko, a board member, “ ‘Soldier, Come Home’ reflects some of our own history at the historical Society. About 4 years ago we were donated a box of Civil War letters from the family of 16 year old William Henry Huffman of Darlington PA. The letters we found mirror Wicks’ play so much it’s amazing.”
In fact, another board member, Jay Paisley, was inspired by the letters and wrote a book entitled, The Huffman Letters: Civil War Letters to Beaver County, Pennsylvania.
For ticket reservations and further information, contact the Little Beaver Historical Society at 724-827-8841. The “Soldier, Come Home” web site is www.civilwarplay.com.
The Pejepscot Historical Society as part of Chamberlain Days 2015 presents “Soldier, Come Home,’’ the award-winning play by Frank W. Wicks based on his great-grandparent’s Civil War letters, on Friday, August 7th, 7:00 p.m. at the Unitarian Church, Pleasant Street, Brunswick, Maine.
“Soldier, Come Home” brings to life the letters of Mary Luke Pringle, her husband, Philip W. Pringle, and family members. The letters provide a look back at some of the most significant battles of the Civil War as well as what life was like for those family members left behind.
In 1950, the long-forgotten letters, written from 1859 to 1865, were discovered in a shoe box in the attic of the Wicks family home in South Fork, Pennsylvania. Wicks, a resident of Harpswell, Maine, transformed the letters into a play, weaving the story of his family through the events and the times of the Civil War.
Mary Pringle wrote to her husband from Armagh, Pennsylvania, while Philip and other family
members corresponded from several major battle sites, including Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, the Siege of Petersburg, and Appomattox.
A Kenosha, Wisconsin critic said, “The true magic of Wicks’ play is in its simplicity, which comes alive through extraordinary letters sent between the battlefield and home. The letters become the play’s dialogue. Conflict, humor, urgency, and powerful emotions completely take over the moment the play begins.”
“Soldier” premiered in Brunswick, Maine in 2002 and has been performed throughout America by more than 20 theater companies. Celebrating its 100th performance on August 7, “Soldier, Come Home” is the winner of the 2012 Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Award for Excellence – “Best Significant Community Impact.”
The play is performed as reader’s theater by six actors playing eight different characters. In the Brunswick cast are Jessica Peck-Lindsay, Michael Thomas, Jack Mahoney, Michael Millett, Al Miller, and special guest Araby Wicks Leary, great-granddaughter of Mary and Philip Pringle, playing her great-great grandmother, Mama Luke.
Chamberlain Days is a bi-annual celebration of the life of Civil War General Joshua Chamberlain, a Brunswick, Maine resident, governor of the State of Maine and President of Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine.
All tickets for the production are $10.00. For ticket reservations and further information about Chamberlain Days 2015, call the Pejepscot Historical Society at 207-729-6606 or visit http:/pejepscothistorical.org/ Tickets will also be available at the door.
From a 19th century needle factory in lower Manhattan to a world-class Civil War museum in Wisconsin, Soldier, Come Home has played ‘em all!
In its ten year history, “Soldier” has played a restored vaudeville theater in the South, a Civil War recruiting center in the North, a country barn in Pennsylvania, and a historic church in Maine where Harriet Beecher Stowe got her inspiration for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
The very first performance took place May 5, 2002 at Center Stage in Brunswick, Maine, a theater founded by Wicks to develop and produce new plays.
The play created a “buzz” which led to other performances in the area, including one at the Bowdoinham, Maine Town Hall, built in the early 1800’s and used as a meeting place for Civil War soldiers as they marched off to war.
It turned out that Brunswick, Maine was a hot bed of Civil War history. Distinguished son, Joshua Chamberlain – Governor of Maine and President of Bowdoin College – was the undisputed “man of the hour” at the Battle of Gettysburg, chronicled by Brunswick historian, John Pullen. Sharing the same church pew was neighbor,
Harriet Beecher Stowe. It is reported that Stowe was so inspired by a sermon that she ran home and penned the first chapter of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
Soldier, Come Home played there, at the Brunswick First Parish Church, as part of the week-long Chamberlain Days Festival, sponsored by the Pejepscot Historical Society.
Word spread. The cast took to the road, performing at the Ohio Theater in New York City, a reconverted needle factory known for its innovative theater productions. It is said that just before the first production there 30 years ago the cast and crew went down on hands and knees, armed with magnets, pulling decades of dropped pins and needles from the floorboard.
Next stop, Johnstown Pennsylvania for three performances at the 19th century Heritage Discovery Center, organized by cousin Frances Hesselbein. It was here that Wicks’ ancestors lived and wrote the letters that were the basis of Soldier, Come Home. Over 100 relatives flew in from all over the country (and one from England) for the performances and a Saturday night family reunion bash.
The play was chosen for the Penobscot Theatre’s New Play Festival, winning
out over 500 entries. Then, an online internet site, civilwarplay.com was set up to announce “Soldier” to cyberspace. Soon, many friendships were made as well as a more widespread interest.
The GreenMan Theatre in Elmhurst, Illinois mounted a week of performances and then took the play on the road. Other productions took place in Forest Grove, Oregon, the Gardiner, Maine Opera House, a barn theater in McConnellstown, Pennsylvania, and The Gem Theater, a restored vaudeville house in Etowah, Tennessee.
An exciting “first” took place September 22, 2012 in Kenosha, Wisconsin when The Brown-Ullstrop Performing Arts Foundation
sponsored a live Radio Theater Production of “Soldier.” The play was broadcast from Kenosha’s new Civil War Museum on WGTD-HD Public Radio Kenosha-Racine-Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, hosted by director Dr. Steven Brown. The production won the First Place award by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association.
Soldier had its Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati premier on Friday, January 25, 2013, at the Campbell County Library in Newport, Kentucky, co-produced and performed by Newport’s Falcon Theatre Company, directed by Clint Ibele. Next, the play was revived by the Gem Players in Etowah, Tennessee and ran for two more weeks at the historic Gem Theater.
Recent performances of Soldier:
April 25 – Historic New Richmond, Ohio – Birthplace of U. S. Grant -performed by the Falcon Theater Company, 7:30 p.m. – as part of Ohio Civil War 150.
April 26 – May 5 – Six performances (dinner theater) by the Summit Theater Company, Bluefield, West Virginia (150th anniversary of West Virginia)
June 29 – Two performances at the Tullahoma, Tennessee Civic Center, 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. (150th anniversary commemoration of the Tullahoma Civil War Campaign)
June 29, 30, July 1 – Three performances in Covington, Kentucky, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Performances on the patio of the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar with music by the Rabbit Hash String Band.)
Upcoming performances of Soldier:
September 20, 21, 22, 27, 28, 29, 2013 – Thomas More College Theatre, Crestview Hills, Kentucky.
The dramatization is based on historic family Civil War letters and opened at the historic Gem Theater in Etowah, Tennessee on May 18,19, 25, 26 at 7:30 p.m. and May 20 and 27 at 2:30 p.m.
Frank W. Wicks transformed the letters of his great-grandparents, Philip and Mary Pringle, into a play. Mary Pringle wrote to her husband from Armagh, Pennsylvania, while he responded from several major Civil War battle sites, including Antietam, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, the siege of Petersburg, and Appomattox.
Veteran Gem director LaMone Rose decided to direct this particular play “because of the significance of the letters during this most sorrowful and dramatic time in our country’s history.” Rose agrees with the author Wicks on the emotional content and knowledge included in the letters.
Wicks says, “I was struck from the beginning by the emotional content of the letters. They were filled with conflicts, complicated relationships, humor, enormous difficulties and struggles for survival.”
We were a house divided… a country divided…. families divided and friends divided and how were we to put ourselves back together again?” says Rose. Soldier, Come Home does not attempt to answer any questions about the causes and effects of “The War Between the States”. But the simple set, the lighting and the images of the War will take the audience to that time and space as the actors become the family “torn apart”. The five actors have only their voices to convey the agony and destruction that war brings but their voices convey the hope that it will never happen again.
The cast of Soldier, Come Home includes Mary Poteet and James Staton as Mary and Philip Pringle; Tim Poteet and Larry Schiller as their brothers, Dan Luke and Martin Pringle; and Bill Freeman in multiple roles of their fathers, older brother, and family friends. Ruth Sowers is the technical director.
For more information about the Gem Players, call 423-263-3270 or visit the website at www.gemplayers.com.
For those of you considering a production of Soldier, Come Home, I offer the following notes about my concept of the original production of the play and suggestions for a production:
The play was conceived as a “concert.” The image of Pavarotti and Tebaldi walking onto the New York Philharmonic stage comes to mind; he in a tux, she in an evening gown. They carry a score bound in a black binder. It’s a concert version of “La Boheme.” Music. Singing begins. Little by little, they transcend the confines of the concert, establish relationships and become the characters; we see only Mimi and Rodolfo and are caught up emotionally by the music and the singing.
This is the goal I have set for Soldier, Come Home.
Music. Five actors walk onto the stage – men in tuxes and the woman in an evening gown – carrying black binders. They take their places. Music fades, lights up on first actor. Reading begins. Little by little, the actors transcend the confines of the “concert” reading, become the characters and establish relationships. The letters become the dialogue and the conflicts, humor and emotions take over.
The set, backdrop, lights, costumes, furniture and sound, along with the letters, are an integral part of the concept of the play. They work together as a unit.
The set: Black risers or platforms at two or three different levels,
from 10 inches to 3 feet high. Each actor has his or her platform or level. Five dark colored, plain wooden chairs are placed on platforms. A black curtain hangs behind the set.
Minimum lighting: Five front of house lekos – one focused on each actor and each light is on a separate dimmer. Overhead is blue backlight (fresnels) to shape actors but used mainly to give actors enough light by which to read the letters.
Costumes: Tuxes for the men. Evening gown for the woman: simple, fairly dark color, floor length.
Sound: Pre-show music. This is the place for a nod to the
Civil War era. Your choice of period music. As lights dim and play starts, segue to lively Civil War music as cast enters the stage. Fade sound as lights come up on first actor.
However: That said, it is totally up to the director to produce the play in any way he or she envisions it. For example, I just saw an extremely effective production in Kenosha, Wisconsin done simply – in an open room – small platform, no lights, actors in white shirts and black slacks/long black dress with music fading in and out throughout.
Directing the play:
Here are some general notes I find important for performing a play based on letters and creating an exciting, riveting production:
1. Pick up cues. As one letter finishes, the next should start immediately without a second’s pause. Think of it as dialogue, a conversation between characters.
2. Find new thoughts within each letter. Even the shortest letters contain many different thoughts.
3. Create a general sense of urgency throughout the play, even in quiet moments.
4. For the most part, letters are read directly to the audience. It is important that the actors make good eye contact with the audience. Knowing the letters well – even learning them – will help with this.
5. “Build” scenes from letter to letter – the idea is that each letter is more important than the last.
6. The play contains humor – I hope. Look for the humor and try to play it.
“On Friday evening, a couple hundred people gathered in the Sanctuary (of the historic First Parish Church) for the dramatic performance of Soldier, Come Home. The male players were dressed in tuxedoes, as opposed to period costumes, which kept the focus on the letters, and the emotions exuded in them. I very much enjoyed this theater project.”…..Bobby Grenier of the North Lake County Florida Civil War Round Table.
Floor plan for platforms – Soldier, Come Home
The play, directed by Phil Hendricks, opens April 14th, 2011 and runs till April 17th in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War.
The play is a dramatization of the Civil War letters of Mary Luke Pringle, her husband, Philip W. Pringle, family members and friends, from 1859 to 1865, adapted for the stage by Frank W. Wicks, great-grandson of Philip and Mary. The play weaves the story of one family through the events of the Civil War.
“You don’t have to be a Civil War buff to appreciate ‘Soldier, Come Home.’ It’s about family, love, duty, and coping: universal themes for people caught in the maelstrom of war.” – Rita Bailey, Joshua Chamberlain Civil War Round Table, Brunswick, Maine
The letters are from western Pennsylvania and from several major Civil War battle sites, including Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, the siege of Petersburg, and Appomattox.
“On Friday evening, a couple hundred people gathered in the Sanctuary for the dramatic performance of “Soldier, Come Home”. The play was written by Frank Wicks, and was based on letters written by his great-grandparents, Philip and Mary Pringle, during the Civil War. The play starred Rock Bergeron, Jack Mahoney, Jessica Peck, Bill Steele and Hamish Strong. The male players were dressed in tuxedoes, as opposed to period costumes, which kept the focus on the letters, and the emotions exuded in them. Jessica Peck wore a stunning dress, and delivered a dramatic performance. I very much enjoyed this theater project; I even sat in the pew once occupied by Joshua and Fannie Chamberlain, and their children.”
A description of the play performed at the historic First Parish Church in Brunswick, Maine as part of “Chamberlain Days Festival, 2003.” Submitted by Bobby Grenier of the North Lake County Florida Civil War Round Table.
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