Schools Collaborate to Perform Dead Man Walking

File Under: college theatre, drama, writing contest

Mother of Mercy High School, in collaboration with McAuley High School and the College of Mount St. Joseph, will perform a moving production of Dead Man Walking on Tuesday, March 25 and Thursday, March 27 at 7 p.m. at the College of Mount St. Joseph Theatre. Dead Man Walking tells the story of the relationship between a death row inmate and his spiritual advisor, rooted in the experiences of Sr. Helen Prejean, an internationally-acclaimed human rights activist and the author of Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States.

Mother of Mercy Theatre Director Lisa Bodollo initiated this unique collaboration through the Dead Man Walking School Theatre Project.  The project represents the efforts of Sr. Helen and Tim Robbins, director of the film adaptation of her book and the stage play.  Rather than take the play to Broadway, Robbins “decided to use the play as a tool to create deeper reflection on the death penalty in our nation’s high schools and colleges.” As a result, schools wishing to perform Dead Man Walking must also involve at least two other academic departments to provide courses related to the death penalty and Dead Man Walking.

“Not only is this a collaboration amongst schools in Cincinnati, but we’ve extended this beyond the theatre,” said Bodollo, who has been working on the details of the Cincinnati premier performance since last spring.  Bodollo met with Mercy’s English, Religion and Social Studies department chairs, along with Elizabeth Barkley, Chair of the English Department at the Mount, and Sr. Nancy Bramlage, Director of Mission and Ministry at the Mount, last summer to determine ways to incorporate Capital Punishment, one of the key moral issues of our day, into academic curriculums through the school year.

• The entire Mercy school community read A Lesson Before Dying for their One Book, One Community Project, a literary assignment that invites the Mercy community to reflect upon a common book chosen to inspire and influence and integrates themes into various courses over the academic year.

• Senior Seminar and Senior Contemporary World Issues classes at Mercy spent first semester discussing the heavily debated topic of Capital Punishment. Seniors Skyped with Ryan Murphy, Organizing Coordinator for the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, who lobbies for Human Rights at the UN and the Capitol. They also welcomed Dr. Nancy Schmidtgoessling ‘69, a clinical psychologist who spoke about the psychological evaluations that take place with those convicted and placed on death row. At the end of the semester, students presented to their classmates visual representations of the aspects of Capital Punishment that had the biggest impact on them.

• Fine Art Departments are also involved - poster design and scenic design is being led by Mercy’s Art Department, and the Vocal Ensembles of both Mercy and McAuley will perform in addition to dancers from both schools.

Elizabeth Mason, Assistant Professor of English at the Mount, is coordinating a writing contest for students from the Mount, McAuley and Mercy. The contest invites students to submit poetry, fiction, essays or original songs on the topics of compassion, dignity and forgiveness.

‘This project has created an incredible opportunity for students to learn amongst their peers and from those outside their regular niche,” said Bodollo.  “This has been an amazing opportunity to work with our sister school, McAuley, and a college. We have developed such a strong relationship with the Mount over the last several years. They’ve opened their theatre to us for our fall musicals and we’ve been lucky to have the talents of several students be part of past performances.”
Over 80 students are in the cast, including senior Jacob Hamm from the Mount, as well as the Mount’s Chief of Police, Tim Carney, and History Professor Peter Robinson, Ph.D. Additionally, almost 100 students from both Mercy and McAuley make up the technical crew. College students and area professionals mentor the cast and crew to help them develop their talents in everything from singing, dancing and acting to artistic design, lights, hair and make-up and costume creation.

Tickets for the performances are available for $10 at ticketalternative.com. They will also be sold in Mother of Mercy’s Main Office and two hours prior to each performance at the Mount's Box Office.

On Wednesday, March 26 Mother of Mercy and McAuley will welcome Sr. Helen Prejean to each of their schools for an all-school assembly. Additionally, the Mount will host Sr. Helen in the school’s theatre that evening at 7 p.m. for a speaking event, open to the public. Sr. Helen’s biography notes, “she has been instrumental in sparking national dialogue on the death penalty and helping to shape the Catholic Church’s newly vigorous opposition to state executions. She travels around the world talking about her ministry.”  “It is an honor that we will be able to host Sr. Helen in addition to two performances,” said Sr. Nancy Bramlage. “This will be a wonderful opportunity for the students of all three schools and their families!”
Prior to Sr. Helen’s speaking engagement, attendees will be able to view selected Capital Punishment projects from Mercy’s Senior Seminar and Contemporary World Issues classes. Additionally, winners of the writing contest will perform their piece before Sr. Helen speaks. The event is free and VIP seating will be available to those who show a ticket from either the Tuesday or Thursday performance. For more information, please contact Elizabeth Barkley at Elizabeth_barkley@mail.msj.edu or call 513-244-4587.