ARLINGTON - An upcoming production of "Dead Man Walking" by The University of Texas at Arlington Theatre Arts Department will be more than a riveting theater experience.
The production, which opens Feb. 26, is part of the national Death Penalty Play Project and a first-ever collaboration among the departments of criminology and criminal justice, political science, art and art history, communication and theatre arts.
Any school producing the play - which is available exclusively to educational institutions - must involve at least two other academic departments in providing course materials related to the death penalty, said Sara Phillips, UT Arlington visiting assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice.
Phillips, an attorney, chairs the collaborative project with Natalie Gaupp, a Theatre Arts senior lecturer. Phillips' interest in the death penalty issues was honed by two years in the Dallas County District Attorney's office. She brought the play project idea to Theatre Arts Chairman Kim LaFontaine, who enthusiastically accepted the challenge.
Instead of the requisite two academic departments, Phillips and Gaupp forged a partnership of four departments, in addition to theatre arts. Criminology and criminal justice, political science and communication will present related lectures, while art and art history students are creating promotional posters and art in varied media - all focused on the death penalty.
"Dead Man Walking" will be presented in the Mainstage Theatre at the Fine Arts Building, S. Cooper St. Performances are at 8 p.m. Feb. 26, 27 and March 4, 5 and 6, with a 2:30 p.m. matinee March 7. Related student art will be available for viewing in the breezeway outside of Mainstage Theatre one hour before the March 5 performance.
Following the March 5 performance, audience members can listen to an After-Show Talk, featuring Phillips and show director Anne Healy, formerly of the production staff at Casa Manana and now an adjunct Theatre Arts lecturer. The talk is sponsored by UT Arlington's Festival of Ideas, established by alumnus Mustaque Ahmed and the College of Liberal Arts.
In the book "Dead Man Walking," Sister Helen Prejean recounts her experience of counseling death row inmate Matthew Poncelet. The 1995 film based on the book - written, produced and directed by Tim Robbins - starred Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn in the lead roles. Sarandon won Best Actress from the Academy Awards for her portrayal.
In 1998, Prejean asked Robbins to write a stage play that could expose new audiences to the story. Robbins' powerful stage adaptation has never appeared on Broadway because he and Prejean decided to use it as a tool for death penalty debate at educational institutions.
The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.