DIRECTING A PLAY is a major undertaking for any student, but when graduate student Kristy Magee took on “Dead Man Walking,” it was unlike anything she had ever attempted and it had a lasting impact on her.
“My adviser gave me the play. I read it and I started researching what the project was about and realized that it was much more than a play, it was an interdisciplinary project.
I immediately fell in love with it,” Magee said
“Dead Man Walking” is a play by Tim Robbins and is based on the experiences of Sister Helen Prejean with convicted murderer Matthew Poncelet. It was made into a major Hollywood film starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon. Today, the play is part of the nationwide Dead Man Walking: School Theatre Project.
Magee began work on the project by talking to classes ranging from poetry to ethics, social work and broadcasting. The topic sparked sometimes intense discussion.
“I learned a lot because I got to see different viewpoints,” Magee said. “It’s a very sensitive topic with many people. I learned what I needed to do to understand both sides in order to put on a successful production.”
In the weeks leading up to the production, Magee worked with campus groups to arrange for two public speakers. One was Rob Warden, an award-winning legal affairs journalist and executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at the Northwestern University School of Law. The second, and for Magee, most surprising, was Sister Helen Prejean, about whom the play was written.
Sister Prejean spoke to a large crowd at Memorial Auditorium as part of the 2011-2012 Performing Arts and Lecture Series. On campus, “Dead Man Walking” played to full houses and got outstanding reviews.
Magee said directing “Dead Man Walking” will be an experience she will always remember, made more so by the campus and community discussion that preceded the production.
“This was an amazing opportunity to show how theater can impact several different departments and a community and a society as a whole,” Magee said.