The following blog was written by PSU graduate student Kristy Magee, director of the upcoming "Dead Man Walking." She can be reached at kmagee@pittstate.edu.


 


The Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project is more than a play.  It is an interdisciplinary project put on by educational institutions across the United States, and this week it takes off at Pittsburg State University! This is a project in conjunction with my graduate creative project through the Department of Communication and it has been an incredible journey.


One of the first exciting elements of the project is directing the play, Dead Man Walking, written by Tim Robbins. The play is based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean, entitled Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States. The book was made into a film and was nominated for several Academy Awards in 1996, including Susan Sarandon for Best Actress for her portrayal of Sister Helen Prejean. I amhumbled to have an unbelievable cast of 17 ensemble members, an amazing stage manager and production staff, and an incredibly talented design and technical crew consisting of faculty and student designers. I couldn’t be more thrilled to see how this show progresses through rehearsals and into production.  Performances are April 26th-28th at 8:00 p.m., and April 29th at 2:00 p.m. in Grubbs Studio Theatre at PSU. Tickets will be available through the PSU Ticket Office by calling 620-235-4796.


The other element of the play is getting others involved on an academic or artistic level across campus surrounding the subject of capital punishment. This is where the project itself gets very unique. Most colleges get about two different classes involved. Pitt State has over ten classes and organizations involved on campus. These include Pitt State Theatre and the Department of Communication, Music, Social Work Plus, Performing Arts and Lecture Series, Social Work and the Court Process, Macro Projects, Photo-documentary, Ethics in Mass Communication, Media Analysis, Poetry, and Women’s Studies. The outstanding faculty members that have committed to both academic and artistic elements of this project in their own discipline have been instrumental in raising awareness about the death penalty in each of their own classes or artistic processes. The students participating in these classes and discussions have been able to research the subject of capital punishment, debate about it, or apply it to their own majors in very unique ways.  At the end the day, it’s all about collaboration, respecting  different academic disciplines and contrasting opinions, and how the arts can be used as an educational tool to bring people together.


Many events have also developed throughout the planning of the project.  I first have to mention the Performing Arts and Lecture Series and Social Work Plus. Sister Helen Prejean, the woman who started all of this, will be visiting Pittsburg because of the support of these superb organizations on campus. Sister Helen Prejean’s lecture, “Dead Man Walking: The Journey Continues” will be Friday, March 30th at 7 p.m. at Memorial Auditorium.  This is one of the many PALS events organized on campus, and they have done a phenomenal job with the help of Social Work Plus.  Tickets are free and are available through the PSU Ticket Office by calling 620-235-4796. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear her speak, so I encourage all to get their tickets!  A book signing by Sister Prejean will also follow the lecture.  In addition to this event, Social Work students, Sara Mills and Abby Sutton, have also organized through their Macro Projects a captivating lecture by Rob Warden. Rob is the Executive Director at the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University and will be giving a free lecture on Friday, March 30th at 11 a.m. in the Crimson and Gold Ballroom of the Overman Student Center.  No tickets are required for this event, and a book signing will follow. We also recently had a Campus Film Night through the Department of Communication where nearly 100 students, faculty, staff and community members got together to enjoy the film, Dead Man Walking, and kicked off these activities.In addition to these events, as previously mentioned, Dead Man Walking, the play, premieres in April. To see the amazing students, faculty, alumni, and community members involved with it, you will just have to plan to be there!


When I first started working on this project nearly two years ago, I had no idea the amount of support and dedication it would involve from Pitt State and the community of Pittsburg. But I am so indebted to my amazing professors in the Department of Communication for supporting this project. A project like this is possible because of the commitment, hard work, and enthusiasm of all professors and students at Pitt State, and to everyone involved, I am forever grateful to you for being such a large part of this. While the play has central themes revolving around freedom, I also see this theme of ‘freedom’ occurring around campus.The freedom to express your own ideas both artistically and academically on a difficult subject matter, the freedom to major in what you love and make others more aware of everything your discipline entails, and the freedom to speak up and make a difference on campus and in society.While this journey is far from over, I can certainly say I am already forever changed by this experience at Pitt State, and  hope each person involved with the Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project is as well.


Kristy Magee, Department of Communication graduate student