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.
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.
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!
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.
“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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