It has just been announced that the live broadcast of Frank W. Wicks’ Civil War play, Soldier, Come Home on WGTD-FM Public Radio, Kenosha-Racine-Lake Geneva, Wisconsin has won the 2012 First Place Award for Excellence from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association. The play was broadcast
from the Kenosha Civil War Museum in September 2012.
According to the play’s producer and director, Dr. Steven M. Brown, Soldier, Come Home, based on Wicks’ great-grandparent’s Civil War letters, won First Place in the category of “Significant Community Impact.” Brown says, “Congratulations, Mr. Wicks! I love the play, and it’s such an honor to be able to work with you.”
The letters of Wicks’ great-grandparents, Philip and Mary Pringle, were discovered in a shoebox in the attic of the family home in
South Fork, Pennsylvania. Wicks transformed the letters into a play, weaving the story of one family through the events of the Civil War.
Soldier, Come Home premiered in Brunswick, Maine in 2002 and has since been performed by more than twelve different theater companies across America, including an Off-Broadway presentation in New York City. Critics described the play as “Beautiful – a rare glimpse into the Civil War. This is a theater experience not to be missed.”
Recent performances have taken place in Oregon, Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and six dinner/theater performances in Bluefield, West Virginia. The next performance is June 29, 2013 in
Tullahoma, Tennessee commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Tullahoma Civil War Campaign.
The play is available for productions in theaters and community centers across America. To purchase and download a copy of the play right now, click on www.civilwarplay.com.
Playwright Frank W. Wicks lives on an island in Maine.
Commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War and the 191st birthday of Ulysses S. Grant in the sanctuary of the historic Cranston Memorial Church, 200 Union St., New
Richmond, Ohio, as you engage in the story of one family woven through the events of the Civil War.
On Thursday, April 25, 7:00 p.m., the Falcon Theater Company presents Soldier, Come Home, a play based on historic Civil War Letters of Mary Luke Pringle, her husband Philip W. Pringle, and family members, written 1859-1865. The letters were adapted for the stage by Maine playwright Frank W. Wicks, great grandson of Philip and Mary Pringle.
Soldier, Come Home, described as “poignant and beautiful,” will be directed by Falcon’s Clint Ibele who recently presented Soldier in Newport, Kentucky. Ibele says, “The story touched so many people’s lives. It will be talked about for a long time I am sure.”
To set the mood for the theatrical performance, the renowned musical group Raison D’Etre will begin the program with a set of Civil War tunes. This talented trio is juried and listed among artists in the Kentucky Arts Council’s Performing Arts Directory.
Historic New Richmond and Cranston Memorial Church are proud to offer this event free and open to the public; however, tickets must be requested in advance. Please phone 513-543-9149 to request your tickets. Tickets can be picked up at the Front Street Café in New Richmond or can be held at WILL CALL at the church on the evening of the event.
A reception with the actors will immediately follow the play in the fellowship hall of the church.
The Summit Players Theatre of Bluefield, West Virginia will present six performances of the stirring Civil War Drama, Soldier, Come Home, on April 26-28 and May 3-5, 2013.
The play, directed by Eleanor Kensinger, is based on the letters of Frank W. Wicks’ great-grandparents, Philip and Mary Pringle and other family members, written during the period 1859 to 1865. The western Pennsylvania family was involved in many major Civil War battles, from Antietam to Appomattox.
Kensinger noted, “This is real, and there is a universality that comes from a story like this.” The director of a recent Newport, Kentucky staging says, “The buzz from our January production continues…the story touched so many people’s lives. It will be talked about for a long time I am sure.”
The production will feature Civil War-era music, sung by the newly formed “Bluestone Chorale,” led by well-known Bluefield musical director Don Kensinger. The Summit Players will offer Dinner Theatre on Fridays and Saturdays, April 26, 27, and May 3, 4. Sunday Matinees, April 28 and May 5 are without food service.
Soldier, Come Home is part of the West Virginia Sesquicentennial Festival, Celebrate West Virginia! 150 Wonderful Years!
For more information or to make reservations please call, 304.325.8000. The Summit Players website is www.summitplayers.com.
Falcon teams up with Campbell County Public Library
As part of the Campbell County Public Library’s ongoing exploration of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, Falcon Theatre of Newport, Kentucky will be presenting the regional premiere of Soldier, Come Home at the Newport Library Branch on Friday, January 25th at 7:00 PM.
Soldier, Come Home is a radio-style theatrical drama based on letters between Phillip and Mary Pringle written during the Civil War and adapted for the stage by their great-grandson, Frank W. Wicks. The letters paint a vivid picture of a part of the war that is seldom seen…the difficulties families faced in being separated and unable to easily communicate.
Soldier, Come Home is being directed by Clint Ibele and features the talents of Falcon veterans Jay Dallas Benson, Elizabeth Molloy, Jim Bussey, Jeff Surber and Ted Weil. (The actors from the “Soldier, Come Home” Cincinnati/Kentucky production will be interviewed Sunday, January 20th – on”Around Cincinnati” sometime between 7-8 pm. (Eastern time) It’ll air on WVXU which is at 91.7 FM, or you can listen to the streaming audio the night of the show at
Falcon also welcomes musical group Raison D’Etre who will be performing Civil War-era music as part of the evening’s performance.
With American soldiers still currently deployed overseas, this historical account of a very different war brings to life some of the rarely seen hardships of war that are still present today.
Tickets for this event are free of charge but must be reserved in advance as seating is limited. Tickets can be reserved by contacting the library at 859-781-6166 or online at www.cc-pl.org.
Well, if you count starring in a junior high school production of “The Sentimental Scarecrow” as the beginning of a theater career, then, o.k. – it’s 60 years.
A lot has happened since then – highlights include acting, directing and managing the very first season of the Long Wharf Theater, acting with Warren Beatty in “The Happiest Millionaire” at the Clinton (Connecticut) Playhouse in 1958, managing the reunion of the Benny Goodman Quartet at Carnegie Hall, flying by helicopter into the Woodstock Festival with Ravi Shankar, stage managing my first Broadway production on the night of my 23rd birthday (won the Pulitzer Prize), managing George Harrison on the Dick Cavett show, getting a rave review in the New York Times for a one-person show, touring the
world managing the Paul Taylor Dance company and The Actors Theatre of Louisville, stage managing Saul Bellow’s first play starring Shelley Winters and Jack Warden, appearing on the recording of Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera, “The Old Maid and the Thief,” the incredible opening night of “Soldier, Come Home,” and many, many more.
I was stage struck at the age of 4 1/2. I remember sitting in my family’s kitchen in New Jersey one morning, sun streaming in through the windows, and on the radio the announcer said – “A wonderful show called Oklahoma just opened on Broadway – and here’s a song from that show.” Out poured “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.” I thought, “It’s so true – it IS a beautiful morning.” That moment marked the beginning of my career in the theater – and as an eternal optimist!!
Children’s theater and community productions followed – then the obligatory high school production of “Time Out for Ginger” – quickly on to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (with fellow classmate, Robert Redford) – a first Off-broadway show – “The Waltz of the Toreadors” – while still in school – then stints with the American Savoyards (I’ve done all fourteen G & S operettas) – New York City Opera stage manager and assistant director. (Was Menotti’s assistant there for a few of his operas and then on to the Spoleto Festival in Italy).
Then tragedy struck.
I was drafted – something called The Bay of Pigs and The Cuban Missile Crisis. Fortunately, the danger was over fairly soon. But there I was – a private in the US Army. What to do? Theater!! We got a group together of other soldier professionals – drafted as I was – and there began exciting and wonderful times writing, acting, directing and designing over 10 productions in our army theater at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. After the army, our gang reassembled in New Haven, Connecticut – did a little summer stock and then ten audacious 25-year-olds started the Long Wharf Theater. (Hey kids, I know where there’s a meat packing warehouse – lets put on a show!)
But eventually I discovered there was actually a life outside of theater – and I married the fabulous dancer, writer, artist Sukanya, raised two wonderful sons, Habib and Woody, moved to a little cottage on an island in Maine, continued theater work, wrote a play, started spending winters on the beach in the Yucatan and looking forward to summers with grandchildren Jake and Sarah.
I still look for my winning numbers in the lottery – don’t think they will ever be there – but it doesn’t matter. I am blessed with an incredible family – a wife – sons – their beautiful, talented wives, grandchildren, a terrific sister and her children and grandchildren, relatives and friends. Who needs a winning lottery ticket??
Frank Wicks talks about the origins of his Civil War play, “Soldier, Come Home.” (Next performance – June 29, 2013 in Tullahoma, Tennessee – 150th Anniversary of the Tullahoma Campaign, American Civil War)
It was like a crash course in American History 101. Letter after letter told of famous Civil War events from the firing on Fort Sumter to the surrender at Appomattox. I was holding in my hands a treasure of first-person accounts of our country’s history. Not only that – I was also reading the story and the history of my family.
This was my reaction as I opened the old shoe box containing over 100 beautifully preserved letters written by my great-grandparents.
I pored over the letters deep into the night, amazed at the information, but sometimes feeling I was invading their privacy -listening in on intimate details of their lives. But I read on, swept up by the beautiful language of 19th century letter writers.
One letter jumped out:
April 10th, 1864
Dear Husband, I seat myself this morning to speak to you through the silent voice of the pen…
And so writes my great-grandmother, Mary Pringle, to her Civil War soldier-husband, Philip Pringle. I have been struck by that haunting phrase for years.
I had to remind myself constantly that this was the only form of communication between Civil War soldiers and their families. The pen was the only voice that
expressed love, longing and countless other emotions. Not surprisingly though, my great-grandparents’ letters were filled with everyday, ordinary information written by ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances. The pen had to provide instructions about tending the farm, feeding cattle, paying bills. And the letters always provided an update on the weather and a little neighborhood gossip.
But the letters contained a basic truth of the times. Mary Pringle goes on to say, “Write to me soon for I can hardly wait. It is all the pleasure I have to write and read your letters.”
Early on I was aware that the letters began to tell a story and were filled with drama. Relationships were complicated, misunderstandings were prevalent, family members gave support – and sometimes not, wives had to be quick learners as they were thrown – overnight – into the responsibilities of running businesses, farms, and earning enough money to make it all happen. I wondered – would it be possible to tell a story – to create a play – through a series of letters?
As it turned out, I didn’t have to do all that much work. As the war raged on the letters continued to tell the story – of the incredible battles, the shifting of power between husband and wife, and of new-found spirit and courage. The play practically wrote itself.
But the gap between letters received grew longer and longer. The mail service was being severely
tested – fewer and fewer letters were getting through. Anxious families at home wondered if their soldier was dead or alive. At this point Philip scribbles at the bottom of a letter, “I am sending this by a wounded soldier.”
To make matters worse, the only way money could be sent home was by mail. But that was risky – On March 15, 1865 Philip writes, “The mail was robbed and there was a great deal of money taken. They blamed the mail carrier for it and they have him under arrest. They found a great many letters torn open and thrown away. Some lost 100 dollars, some 200. Someone even 900.“
An online essay, Wartime Letterwriting, says, “In addition, soldiers were constantly on the move, which made for further delivery problems. If a letter was addressed and delivered to a soldier’s last known address, there was no guarantee that its intended recipient was still stationed at that camp.
Correspondents at home had to rely on information from a soldier’s last letter regarding his whereabouts.”
I am eternally grateful for the silent voices of my great-grandparents’ pens. They bestowed on me – as well as all of their descendants – a rare legacy of extraordinary history – family and country – loud and clear.
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.
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.
Upcoming 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)
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
Frances Hesselbein needs no introduction to anyone working in the nonprofit sector in America. For the uninitiated, let me fill you in: For many years, Frances was the CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA, leading that organization into a new era of extraordinary growth – building a diverse membership with an emphasis on creating a richly diverse, cohesive, contemporary organization for girls and young women,
developing the leaders of tomorrow. When she retired from that job in 1990, she became the first founding President and CEO of the new Peter Drucker Foundation, which became the present day Leader to Leader Institute. At Leader to Leader Frances galvanized the nonprofit world, established scholarships, wrote books on leadership, and traveled extensively, speaking about leadership to nonprofits and business leaders around the world, so far 68 countries. She has co-edited 27 books in 29 languages.
Her new book, My Life In Leadership: The Journey and Lessons Learned Along the Way, will be published in February 2011 by John Wiley & Sons. In her review of the book, Joanne Fritz writes, ”Hesselbein perhaps left her most lasting mark on the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. From 1976 to 1990, she turned that organization into a modern, diversified, and efficient national voice for girls. As a result of her vision and activism, Hesselbein was named Fortune Magazine’s “Best Nonprofit Manager in America,” and in 1998 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor.
I must now reveal that Frances is my first cousin – her great-grandparents are also Philip and Mary Pringle – and (in her spare time!) has been a driving force behind Soldier, Come Home. She pored through our great-grandparents’ letters, helped with revisions of the play and single-handedly produced performances. Frances organized a production at the historic Heritage Discovery Center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania (an area where many of the letters were written). Dozens of relatives flew into Johnstown from all over the country – and as far away as England – to attend a weekend of performances and partake in a grand family reunion.
Frances says, “Working with Soldier, Come Home has been a joy. The dramatic adaptation of our family’s Civil War letters makes a wonderful, moving story of our family. Throughout the play I keep thinking about Philip and Mary’s daughter, Sadie Pringle Wicks, our grandmother – we all called ‘Mama Wicks’. She was an extraordinary woman and has been the greatest influence in my life. I’m so honored to be a part of Soldier, Come Home. It is a treasure.”
Needless to say, I am indebted to Frances and so very proud of her many awards and accomplishments. And they keep coming! According to the Leader to Leader website, “In 2009, Mrs. Hesselbein was appointed the Class of 1951 Chair for the Study of Leadership at the United States Military Academy at West Point, in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership. She is the first woman, and the first non-graduate to serve in this chair. Also in 2009, the University of Pittsburgh introduced The Hesselbein Global Academy for Student Leadership and Civic Engagement. The Academy’s aim is to produce experienced and ethical leaders who will address the most critical national and international issues and to advance positive social and economic initiatives throughout the world.
However, what most people do not know is Frances Hesselbein’s devotion to and support of her own family members all over the country. She would go to the ends of the earth to champion, help, nurture and mentor. She has been an inspiration to all of us. ‘Mama Wicks’ would have been proud!
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