The voices of Kentites who experienced the May 4, 1970 shootings on the Kent State University campus and its encompassing turmoil will premiere on the big screen for the first time in downtown Kent Thursday.
The Kent Stage will premiere the filmed version of the 2010 play May 4th Voices, which was written by David Hassler, director of the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State.
The play is based on oral histories collected from those who experienced the shootings and the events during the days prior and afterward. The oral histories were organized throughout several years by Kent Historical Society board president Sandra Halem.
Hassler said the filmed version of the play is an outgrowth of the original production that was staged in 2010 for the 40th anniversary of the shootings, which killed four students and wounded nine after Ohio National Guard troops opened fire on campus following days of protests over the war in Asia.
"Ultimately this play is not just about a unique, single incident," Hassler said. "It’s ultimately about how we are led toward conflict and violence through our inability to listen and talk to each other. This play, in a very real way, shows us how such tragedy came about through the inability of people to have a creative dialogue."
Hassler started writing the play in 2009, shortly after Halem's digital archive of more than 100 eyewitness oral history interviews was catlogued and posted online in the Kent State University Libraries’ Department of Special Collections and Archives.
The play, what's called "verbatim theater," brings the text of those oral histories to life via Kent State undergraduate students.
With help from a grant through the Ohio Humanities Council the university rented two television cameras to record the play, which will be shown first at the Kent Stage Thursday at 7 p.m. and then broadcast locally on Western Reserve Media television stations Friday at 10 p.m.
Tom Hatch, director of the Kent Historical Society, said the play serves as more than just a film that brings to life local voices from the past.
"We conceived of the idea of creating a teacher’s resource book that high school teachers, or even middle school and college teachers could use, to use the play in a classroom situation," Hatch said.
The Kent State University Press is releasing the text of the play, a published teacher's guide and DVD so that teachers around the country, and even the globe, can incorporate lessons from the May 4 shootings into the classroom for younger generations to learn from.
"We tried to be general enough so they could explore their own experiences with social justice issues," Hatch said of the teacher's guide, which was developed in cooperation with area high school teachers and college professors.