Sharon Andrews and her colleagues in the theatre and dance department would like to make the University Theatre the community’s theatre. Andrews, an associate professor of theatre, is directing the University Theatre’s current production of “The Grapes of Wrath” on the Mainstage Theatre.
The play has the usual large cast of undergraduates, but Andrews has sought to make it more of a community play, reaching out to faculty and staff and graduate students, and she is using the play as a springboard to partner with other academic departments on campus and a local high school.
“We want the theatre to ripple out to the campus community and to the larger community and integrate the community into what we are doing,” Andrews said.
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The play, adapted by Frank Galati, is based on John Steinbeck’s classic 1939 novel of a desperately poor family fleeing the “Dust Bowl” of Oklahoma during the Great Depression for what they hoped would be a better life in California. In addition to about 30 undergraduates, the play’s cast also includes several graduate students and others with connections to Wake Forest. Owen Rask, the son of Provost Jill Tiefenthaler and Professor of Economics Kevin Rask, auditioned for and landed the part of Winfield, the youngest son of the Joad family.
The play features an old-time string bandcomposed of faculty and staff and others associated with Wake Forest: Martha Allman (’82, MBA ’92) (autoharp), director of undergraduate admissions, and her daughter, Ella (bass fiddle); Linda Bridges (accordion), director of admissions for the divinity school; Rick Davidson (banjo), husband of Joanne Davidson, who works in the Schools of Business; Cecilia Kucera (fiddle), a sophomore Presidential Scholar; and Bill McIlwain (MAEd ’94) (guitar). McIlwain also plays “the man with the guitar” in the play.
The production is presenting several opportunities for related events over the next week to explore the play’s themes. “More and more, we are striving to provide opportunities for theatre students to have a larger conversation about the issues that plays bring up,” Andrews said. “We are looking for shows that serve our students — first of all, the University theatre is the ‘lab’ for theatre students — but that can also be integrated with other departments on campus.”
Frank Galati, the playwright who adapted “The Grapes of Wrath” in 1988, will discuss the economic, social and political issues raised in the story with several Wake Forest professors on Feb. 24 at 4:30 p.m. in the Mainstage Theatre. The panel will also include Worrell Professor of Political Science David Coates; Professor of Economics Robert Whaples; and cultural historian and journalist Brian Berger, who will take about the social context of the play. The panel discussion is sponsored by Wake Forest’s BB&T Center for the Study of Capitalism.
Andrews is also taking the play’s themes of poverty, homelessness and the Great Depression to two history classes at Parkland High School, and the students are coming to campus to see the play. Wake Forest has a partnership with the IB program at Parkland.
Also, McIlwain is presenting a one-man musical, “Woody Guthrie, Tonight!,” in the Mainstage Theatre on Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m. The show will follow Guthrie’s life from Oklahoma to California to New York and feature 16 of his most memorable songs, including, “This Land Is Your Land,” and “So Long, It’s Been Good To Know You.”
“We want the community to know that Wake Forest University Theatre is your theatre and that we belong to the community,” Andrews said.
— By Kerry M. King (’85), Office of Communications and External Relations