The Voice of the Prairie: Exploring the power of memory in America’s heartland

The Voice of the Prairie (Photo via CUPresents.org)

John Olive’s play “The Voice of the Prairie” came to life at CU over Valentine’s Day weekend, providing a window into the American heartland in the first decades of the 20th century. Under the direction of BFA student Zachary Heygood, the actors delivered provoking and emotional portraits of their characters and the memories they hold.

Taking place across the Great Plains, the play tells the story of David Quinn, a Nebraska farmer who gets recruited to tell captivating stories on the newly emerging technology of radio. At the center of the radio business is Leon Schwab, a New York transplant and prairie capitalist, who vehemently opposes the strict airwave regulations put forth by President Herbert Hoover.

When Quinn’s stories about the time he ran away across the country with a blind girl named Frankie soar in popularity, he is offered work at a broadcasting center in New York.

As Quinn tells these childhood stories, his past increasingly catches up with his present. Frankie, once “the girl who got away,” emerges once more, and the characters can no longer ignore the impact the other had one their lives.

While Act One focuses on Quinn’s perspective, Act Two showcases the viewpoint of Frankie and her life as a schoolteacher in an unhappy relationship.

“I really wanted it to be two different stories – I call it a dual love story,” Heygood said. “They start off as kids not necessarily trying to be romantic, and then as adults they find that love again.”

Actors had good fun perfecting their portrayal of different versions of a single character.

“Technically we weren’t supposed to interact,” said actor Graham Longworth, who played the young Quinn. “[Older Quinn] can see me but I can’t see him at all. It was really neat to be able to work on playing the same character at different points in his life.”

Directing “The Voice of the Prairie” for CU Presents was a very special moment for Heygood.

“When I was in high school, we did a 30-minute abridged version of this play…and then when I was submitting plays as options to direct here at CU, they chose this one, so it was a really nice experience to work on it again,” he said.

Held in the small-scale acting studio at the CU Boulder Theatre Building, “The Voice of the Prairie” allowed for a considerable amount of interaction between actors and audience members.

“It’s been so long since I’ve been in – or even seen – a show with this much audience interaction,” said Longworth.

The play premiered on Thursday, Feb. 14, and was shown again Saturday and Sunday.

Contact CU Independent arts staff writer Drew Korschun at drko0056@colorado.edu@colorado.edu

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