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IU writers share Indiana’s history in ‘Finding Home,’ a bicentennial stage production

Oct. 12, 2016

To celebrate Indiana’s bicentennial, the Indiana Repertory Theatre has tapped the talents of Hoosier writers to create an original production: “Finding Home: Indiana at 200.” 

Current and past faculty members as well as alumni from IU Bloomington and IUPUI are among almost 30 writers from around the state who contributed to the play. 

Four of the writers shared their experience collaborating on “Finding Home” with Inside IU. Their works in “Finding Home” unearth little-known stories from Indiana’s past, depict historic landmarks through new perspectives and revive scenes of racial and social tension. Although they looked to the past to craft their pieces for the play, they discovered themes that are still relevant today. 

Enter to win

Current IU faculty and staff with a valid IU email address can enter to win two tickets to see "Finding Home: Indiana at 200" at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, a $100 total value. The contest opens Oct. 12 and closes at 5 p.m Oct. 14.

Bruce Hetrick, professor of practice, Department of Journalism and Public Relations, IUPUI 

Bruce Hetrick

Bruce Hetrick | PHOTO COURTESY OF BRUCE HETRICK

The site where white men were hanged for the first time under American law for killing Indians is minutes from where Hetrick lives in Pendleton, Ind. He drew from his research into the historic execution in 1825 for a monologue featured in “Finding Home.”

“When I received the invitation to create an original work for Indiana Repertory Theatre, I decided to tell the ‘Fall Creek Massacre’ story from the perspective of one of the Indian women who fell victim to the white men’s crime,” Hetrick said. “As in Edgar Lee Masters’ ‘Spoon River Anthology,’ she tells her story from the grave. Her monologue is interwoven with a musical account of the story written by actor/balladeer Tim Grimm. The story of racial tension and its consequences remains relevant to our world today.” 

For Hetrick, sharing such stories in “Finding Home” is an opportunity to explore both the good and bad aspects of Indiana’s rich history.

“Historic milestones are great opportunities to look back and take pride in the good things,” he said. “But they’re also ideal times to learn from the past in hopes that we might not repeat some of our dark chapters. I hope this production gives us an opportunity to find pride and understanding in where we’ve been so we might do a better job with our future.” 

Shari Wagner, Indiana poet laureate, IU Bloomington alumna

Shari Wagner

Shari Wagner | PHOTO BY RACHEL GREENBERG

Several of Wagner’s poems have been woven into the play. In the poem "Sarah's Exodus," Wagner tells the story of Sarah Breedlove, also known as Madam CJ Walker, an African-American woman who became America's first female self-made millionaire and located her business in Indianapolis.  

Another of Wagner’s poems featured in the play is “Tippecanoe Battlefield.” It is based on her family’s visit to the area near Lafayette where Shawnee leader Tecumseh’s confederacy of tribes was defeated by William Henry Harrison’s troops.

“I hope that the audience will be moved by these stories,” Wagner said. “I hope that the past will come alive for them, and they’ll see how it connects to the present. It would also be great if ‘Finding Home’ inspires audience members to meditate on the future and how they are a part of our Indiana story.”

Scott Russell Sanders, distinguished professor emeritus, Department of English, IU Bloomington

Scott Sanders

Scott Russell Sanders | PHOTO COURTESY OF SCOTT RUSSELL SANDERS

It’s through excerpts of a monologue in the voice of Rachel Peden that Sanders’ work makes its way into the production. He believes Peden’s writing deserves to be better known.

“She lived and farmed in Monroe County from the mid-20th century until her death in 1975,” he said. “For several decades, she wrote columns on rural life for newspapers in Indianapolis and Muncie. Three volumes of these witty, perceptive essays, originally published in the 1960s and 1970s, have recently been reprinted by IU Press.”

Sanders said he has high regard for Peden and the fellow artists who contributed work to “Finding Home.”

“We should all be grateful to Indiana Repertory Theatre for undertaking such an ambitious and visionary project,” he said. “The play will offer audiences a rich, rangy, surprising portrait of this patch of earth we call Indiana.”

Sarah Layden, lecturer, writing and creative writing program, Department of English, IUPUI

Sarah Layden

Sarah Layden | PHOTO COURTESY OF SARAH LAYDEN

Layden’s contributions to “Finding Home” tell the stories of Ryan White, an Indiana boy whose life and death raised awareness of HIV and AIDS, and the state’s professional Negro League baseball team, the Indianapolis Clowns.

“I’m very proud to be a part of ‘Finding Home,’ but particularly proud that I got to tell stories that matter not only in Indiana but in the nation,” Layden said.

By developing the two pieces for the play, Layden had an opportunity to explore White’s experience and delve into the history of the Clowns. She also got to try out writing in a way she hadn’t before.

“I’ve never written for the stage before,” she said. “The writer/editor collaboration is very important to me, and I’m always grateful to work with people who have insight and a vision and still give you room to realize your own. I do at times collaborate with other writers in the early drafting stages, but for the most part, my writing happens in isolation. Making it public means a kind of collaboration with the audience. Both stages -- the private and the public -- are exciting and unpredictable.” 

In addition to Hetrick, Wagner, Sanders and Layden, "Finding Home" writers with IU affiliations include IUPUI and IU Bloomington alumnus Ray Boomhower; IUPUI professor and former Indiana Poet Laureate Karen Kovacik; Sandy Sasso, a member of IUPUI chancellor's board of advisors; and IU Bloomington alumni Andrew Black, Michael Martone and Angelo Pizzo. A list of all the writers who contributed to the stage production is available online.

IU writers' collaboration in "Finding Home"  aligns with several priorities in the university's Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including celebrating IU's community of scholars.

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