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Wednesday, 07 February 2018 12:45

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Play provides a fun glimpse of how Liberal got its name



ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times



Many locals are familiar with how Liberal got its name. Still others have great knowledge of some of what makes Liberal unique with events like Pancake Day and the cultural diversity and work ethic of the community.

In her book, “Liberal and Seward County,” local historian Lidia Hook-Gray tells about some of the history of the town, which is now the county seat, through the use of photographs.

Now, Seward County Community College’s newest drama director, Michele Van Hessen, is bringing Hook-Gray’s book to life in a one-act play entitled “That’s Mighty Liberal.”

The title is based on the line travelers used when crossing the area in the late 1800s and given free water by Seymour Rogers from the well he dug.

Van Hessen began writing the play in the fall of 2017, and the story, which centers around two families in Liberal, has been through many rewrites, something the director said is always part of the process of creating a play.

“Any writer doesn’t do their first draft as a play,” she said. “You work with the actors, and you listen to the dialogue very carefully. It takes on a life of its own, and you want to treat it like you do bread so that it will rise and become a loaf. You want to make transitions work so that there is a strong narrative.”

Van Hessen said the cast for “That’s Mighty Liberal” features many professionals, all of whom have done a terrific job in practicing for the performances, which will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday and at 1 p.m. Saturday in the SCCC Showcase Theater.

“Some of these people have done plays in the community for over the last 15 years,” she said. “It’s really a pleasure to work with professionals like that.”

The play will likewise feature historical references and slides from Hook-Gray’s book.

“It embraces the soul and the struggles of family life while reflecting on Liberal’s diverse history and its culture and its happenings and the tough dedicated people that live here,” Van Hessen said. 

Van Hessen arrived in Liberal in August of 2017, taking the position of SCCC’s newest drama director, and she said her first action when she got to town was to go to the Liberal Chamber of Commerce.

“I had not been in Liberal, and I said, ‘I want to read some books about Liberal and the diversity here,’” she said. “They said, ‘There are none, but there is one picture book that we have that will show you pictures.’ I picked it up, and I read the introduction, which includes how Liberal got its name. I looked at the front, and I said, ‘How do I get hold of Lidia?’”

Van Hessen was informed that Hook-Gray could be found at her work place at Heritage Real Estate, about half a block from the Chamber, and immediately, she went to visit the local historian.

“I got in my car, went over there, walked in the door and said, ‘Hello my name is Michele. I’m a playwright, and I want to turn Lidia’s book into a play. Can I speak with her?’” she said. “I think Lidia was a little taken back by this woman who just charged into her office and said she wanted to do a play. She was very gracious and said, ‘Okay, go for it.’”

Van Hessen did the first draft of “That’s Mighty Liberal” in October, inviting the college’s deans and Hook-Gray herself to see what she had written. The drama director said the historian was to say the least pleased with her efforts.

“She sent me an e-mail saying she loved it,” she said. 

Since then, Van Hessen has been polishing “That’s Mighty Liberal” into what the community will see the next three nights.

When she came to Liberal, Van Hessen said she was a little surprised to learn how many SCCC students did not know how Liberal got its name, and this is part of what inspired her to write the play.

“I thought let’s tell it,” she said. “It’s really for the college and for the community to be able to see their history.”

Van Hessen said a large part of the inspiration, though, came from Hook-Gray’s book.

“When I discovered Lidia’s work, I read how Liberal got its name, and I thought that was such a fantastic story that we had to highlight the diversity and the growth here,” she said. “I wrote a story so I could weave her 290 photos that she has in her book into a play. That was interesting because in order to be able to see all of them, I had to create a scenario that would allow me to show all the slides.”

Van Hessen said she wanted to create a narrative and a story to reflect those slides, and she believes she has accomplished just that.

The director is already in the process of planning SCCC’s next production.

“In April, we’re going to do ‘You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown,’ which was just cast,” she said. “I did that with Dr. Magda Silva, and Darrin will be the conductor of the music. We will be working on that full time. Then, I will be visiting the Utah Shakespeare Festival this summer and talking to many directors to get a fall play.”

Tickets for “That’s Mighty Liberal” are $5 adults and $2 for seniors 65 and older. SCCC students can get in free with an ID. Tickets can be purchased in advance by calling 620-417-1451 or at the door the night of the performance.

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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