Local history on stage

Outraged: Terror in Springfield 1908 at UIS Studio Theatre Feb. 9-11

click to enlarge Local history on stage
From left, Reggie Guyton, Patricia James Davis, Kess Roberson and Tim Crawford in Outraged.

The UIS Performing Arts Center invites you on a collaborative journey into history with Outraged: Terror in Springfield 1908 by local playwright and 2023 UIS artist-in-residence, Tim Crawford. This play-in-progress, part of the Our Stage / Our Voices initiative, promises an evening of thought-provoking theater, audience engagement and a chance to contribute your voice to the process.

The story centers on Bonaparte Baker, who is on his way west in the early 1900s, 10 years after he survived a horrific attack on the Black community in Wilmington, North Carolina. He steps off the train in his birthplace of Springfield, which is renowned as the hometown of Abraham Lincoln. Baker's estranged brother-in-law tells him Springfield's Black community feels shielded, because of Lincoln's legacy, from the pogroms Black people are plagued with throughout the southern United States. But in August 1908, terror looms in Springfield. The cast includes Tim Crawford as Bonaparte Baker, Kess Roberson as Henry Wilson, Mariah Brooks as Joanie Wilson, Marcus Butler as Junebug, Reggie Guyton as Pookie, Patricia James Davis as Lucretia, with Stephen Sykes, Francisco Valenzuela and Elise Willow as the Townsfolk Chorus.

I asked the playwright/actor some questions about his play to give readers some insights into the production.

Q: When did you first become interested in telling this story? I saw this video on YouTube in 2018. https://youtu.be/5S8y3a_eTwI?si=KrY—a1KDSJ1EiDw

Having lived in Springfield for almost 10 years, this was the first I had heard of this shameful part of Springfield's history.

Q: What unexpected challenges have you experienced going through this process?

One of the challenges I faced in writing this play was knowing when the "research phase" was over, and when it is time to sit down and start writing the play. The key to overcoming this was having a deadline. The artist-in-residency was not just the catalyst to get me started writing the play, it also came with a built-in deadline. And that led to a surprise, something I had not experienced as a writer crafting plays set in contemporary America. I realized that there is more than one phase of research when writing a play based on historical events. I had to learn enough history and stories to start to write the play, but when I finished the first draft, there was more research to do. I had to fill in the blanks for things that I had written that sprang up organically from creating characters who are not based on actual historical figures.

Q: What kinds of questions do you think the story raises?

Mainly, "Why have I never heard of this?" I had heard of other historical terror attacks on Black people across indent only the first line of paragraphAmerica, but nobody in my local circles was talking about this one. After listening to some in-person oral histories in the UIS archives, I got the inspiration to write a story about a conflict within a family playing out against the backdrop of mob violence directed at the Black citizens of Springfield.

Q: What can audience members expect?

The play is about the family dynamic and how they resolve their conflicts. The impact of the terror attacks and how the history of similar massacres interweave with the story of this family is what I hope will interest audiences and keep them on the edge of their seats for 80 minutes. 

Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring playwright?

You don't need a degree or even a theater background to be a playwright. Having a compelling story to tell comes first. The rest can be learned. I recommend Gary Garrison's book A More Perfect 10. It's a guide to writing a 10-minute play, but it brings to light the basics of what you need to know to get started writing plays. I used the book as the text for the Writing for the Stage Workshop I lead this summer as part of my Residency at the UIS Preforming Arts Center.

Our Stage / Our Voices amplifies the voices of historically underrepresented communities in the performing arts, with a goal of achieving diversity and inclusion. If you would like to see the show and support the effort, it runs Feb. 9, 10 and 11 at the UIS Studio Theatre. Curtain at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. Visit https://uispac.com/outraged-terror-in-springfield-1908-2/ for tickets.

Mary Young was born and raised in Springfield has been performing in, producing and directing live theater for decades. She she's done film and voice-over work, performs occasionally with local bands and the improv troupe The Portuguese Rodeo Clown Company.

Mary Young

Mary Young was born and raised in Springfield and has been performing in, producing and directing live theater for decades. She's done film and voice-over work, performs occasionally with local bands and takes part in improv troupe The Portuguese Rodeo Clown Company.

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