Audience members on stage? This was the scene at Eastern from Nov. 14 to 18, as the theater department brought the rich story of the evolution vs. creation debate to life with theater director Mark Hallen’s adapted version of Inherit the Wind.
The story is set in Tennessee in the 1920s, as a schoolteacher is on trial for teaching Darwin’s evolution theory in the heart of the Bible Belt. The courtroom atmosphere of this play was vividly recreated by the production team, as all members of the audience were on stage, submerged in a crowded courtroom.
“The stage gave the show a town meeting setting, which got everyone engaged, and it almost made you forget you are watching a play,” junior and cast member Tara Quinn said.
The stage was set up with 100 wooden chairs, light bulbs, ceiling fans and the wooden floor; all which were reminiscent of how a courtroom in the 1920s looked.
As the play progressed, the actors mingled through the crowd, and crowd members were able to watch the exchanges, see facial expressions and feel the tension that powerfully drove this production.
“[Being on stage], the audience could feel exactly what was going on so we were submerged in the play. This kept the play alive and allowed you to follow along,” junior audience member Rachel Keller said.
Senior and cast member Shannon Flannery commented on the necessity of having the audience so close for this production.
“This show works so well because we have the audience onstage. This would not have been as effective if we were separated from the audience. Having the audience there is great for us,” Flannery said.
After two acts, the actors digressed from the normal third act and added a scene of historical information about the Scopes Monkey Trials, upon which were the real-life events that Inherit the Wind was based. Following a curtain call, Hallen called for a time of discussion and questions on the stage in the ‘town meeting setting.’
Professors Phil Cary and Frederick Boehlke both shared historical facts, while cast members talked about the struggles of performing this play amidst controversy.
“We all did research on Greek mythology and Native American ideals and different types of creationism,” senior and cast member Natalie Cisternas said. “This was an opportunity to converge with each other and open our minds to the possibilities. It was also an opportunity to listen rather than to judge.”
Regarding the controversy, cast members did not let this affect the performance.
“[Raising controversy] was not the point of the play. It was to leave [evolution vs. creationism] up to debate,” sophomore and cast member Lee Brewer said.
As Inherit the Wind graced the McInnis auditorium stage this past weekend, Eastern professor Dr. David Wilcox shared his thoughts on the controversy between evolution and creation.
Creation vs. evolution at Eastern:
“In science classes, we simply discuss the evidences that an evolutionary process has occurred as physical evidences of God’s methods in creating the world. I have a suspicion that a good many faculty who are not science-trained may not accept descent from common ancestors as what really happened-nor think that compatible with Scripture.”
Eastern’s production of Inherit the Wind:
“As a historical piece, it is seriously flawed. However, the role of drama in creating historical myth is certainly relevant to the play, since almost everyone’s ‘knowledge’ about the trial is really ‘knowledge’ about the play. But the question of what should be presented, why it is, or is not, acceptable and how it should be done is certainly relevant.”