Boone, NC -- On May 4, 1970, Kent State University student Ray Miller was walking to class when he became an inadvertent witness to history. As Miller passed by a peaceful, student-organized rally opposing the Vietnam War, soldiers from the Ohio National Guard fired 67 rounds of ammunition into the crowd. In 13 seconds, four students were killed and nine others wounded, leaving an entire nation to cope with the tragedy.
Fifty years later, Miller regularly walks across the campus of another university, Appalachian State, on the way to class where he is a professor who holds a PhD and former chairperson of the Department of Theatre and Dance.
Over the years, he has reflected on the days leading up to the shooting and has packaged his remembrances and experiences into a new play, Kent State: Then, and Again. The play’s world premiere debuts April 21 at 7 p.m. and runs each subsequent evening through April 25 on the department’s virtual platform. Admission is free with advance registration is required at Department of Theatre and Dance. All registrants will receive a private link to access the event both the day before and one hour prior to the performance.
Miller, who is both playwright and director, says he has tried to give multiple points of view about the tragic event and offers perspectives from students, townspeople, university administrators, national guard soldiers, journalists and his as the narrator and observer.
“I believe this story needs to be told now in 2021,” said Miller, who adds that while the play is sobering, it also includes romance, friendship, laughter, poetry and a live for today sensibility. “This needs to be shared so that people understand this event was not and is not a singular, foreign event but one that could occur anywhere.”
Cast member Skyler Geer, sophomore general theatre and anthropology double major from Jacksonville, Florida said, “It is truly a unique experience, on many levels. “It’s a distinct honor to work directly with the playwright/ director. Dr. Miller’s eyewitness accounts of the Kent State shootings provide enlightenment on the various nuances of the piece. We now realize that the students of past decades were similar in thought, passion and feeling to us.”
In addition to Geer, the ensemble of 18 cast members who portray 61 different characters in Kent State: Then, and Again includes (in alphabetical order) Richard Barker, a sophomore theatre performance and journalism major from Charlotte; Mackenzie Boone, a freshman theatre arts major and Casey Burton, a junior theatre performance major, both from Wilmington; Tim Christopher, a junior theatre performance major from Greensboro; Clyde Cohen, a freshman theatre performance and electronic media and broadcasting major from Surf City, NC; Riley Cullen, a junior political science major from King, NC; Elizabeth Edwards, a junior theatre performance major from Catawba, NC; Dalton Forster, a senior theatre performance major from Garner; Elijah Golden, a freshman theatre performance major from Yadkinville; Cielo Gomez, a junior theatre performance major from Bailey, NC; Nick Isley, a junior theatre performance major from Concord; Clayton Paige, a junior theatre performance major from Mount Pleasant, NC; Elonie Quick, a sophomore theatre performance major from Greensboro; Gillian Quigley, a junior theatre performance and creative writing major from Charlotte; Hannah Sousa, a sophomore theatre education major from Fayetteville; Connor Stack, a senior theatre performance major from Monroe, and Sara Stone, a sophomore theatre education major from Charlotte who doubles as the production’s dramaturg.
The student production team includes Zach Baugher, a junior theatre education and philosophy major from Kernersville; Kaili Boyd, a junior theatre design and technology major from Apex; Cecilia Chan, a sophomore theatre design and technology major from Dallas, NC; Avery Daniels, a senior theatre design and technology major from Wanchese, NC; Lindsay Nyman, a sophomore theatre design and production major from Apex, NC; Carson Rainey, a senior technical theatre and design major from Raleigh, and Will Taylor, a sophomore theatre education major from Charlotte. The production team also includes Associate Professor John Marty and Professor Martha Marking from the faculty of the Department of Theatre and Dance.
Dr. Ray Miller and his now wife, Jessica Wood, from the 1970s
Kent State: Then, and Again contains four original songs composed by noted singer/songwriter, Dr. Doris Bazzini, a professor in the Department of Psychology at App State and 2005-06 recipient of the Board of Governor's Outstanding Teaching Award. Bazzini is also the principal singer and composer for the folk music ensemble Folk and Dagger.
To access the digital archives at Kent State University: https://omeka.library.kent.edu/special-collections
About the Department of Theatre and Dance
The Department of Theatre and Dance is one of seven departments housed in App State’s College of Fine and Applied Arts. Its mission is to facilitate transformative experiences for students and the public, which cultivate compassionate, creative and collaborative communities through theatre and dance. The department also offers coursework for integrated learning through the arts to the general university student population. Its dynamic co-curricular production program provides exemplary theatre and dance experiences to departmental students, the university community and the region.
About Appalachian State University
Appalachian State University, in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, App State enrolls over 20,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.