‘Dawn Falls’ on Kent community

Bethany Early

Ruben Ryan, left, sophomore theater studies major, and Roger Thurman, right, appear in the debut of the original outdoor play “Dawn Falls: The Founding of Franklin Mills, Ohio,” celebrating Kent’s Bicentennial. CARRIE WICKS | SUMMER KENT STATER

Credit: Steve Schirra

A crowd of all ages gathered in the blazing sun for a non-traditional history lesson Sunday afternoon at the new Heritage Park in downtown Kent.

The debut of the original outdoor play “Dawn Falls: The Founding of Franklin Mills, Ohio,” which commemorates the founding of Kent, formerly Franklin Mills, drew an audience of about 300 parents, children, students, pets and onlookers from the Main Street Bridge above. The drama, a part of Kent’s Bicentennial celebration, is a production of Standing Rock Cultural Arts and the Kent Historical Society.

The play’s debut had originally been scheduled for Saturday evening, but was postponed until Sunday due to rain. A make-up rain date performance will take place Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Heritage Park and an additional performance is scheduled for Sunday at 3 p.m.

The one-act play was written and directed by Kent resident Jeff St. Clair and co-produced by Standing Rock artistic director Gary Lockwood and Jeff Ingram, executive director of Standing Rock. The play is set in the early 1800s and depicts real characters and events. The details were obtained primarily from the book “Recollections of an Old Settler,” which was written in the 1870s by Christian Cackler.

“‘Dawn Falls’ is not just about Kent history. It brings to life the conflicts and struggles happening all across the brand new state of Ohio,” St. Clair said. “We would understand ourselves a lot better . if we knew what price we paid and was paid by others.”

St. Clair spent last winter researching Kent’s history for the script and hopes to offer the script to area schools to be performed.

The play’s concept and location along the banks of the Cuyahoga River was the product of Guy Pernetti, the Kent Historical Society’s former executive director and member of the Bicentennial Committee.

‘Dawn Falls’

Where? Heritage Park

When? This weekend’s shows are July 29 at 7:30 p.m. and July 30 at 3 p.m.

Native American flute and drum music begins one-half hour prior to Saturday’s performance.

“The river really is the history of the city,” Pernetti said. He said he hopes the audience leaves with a sense of history, affection and personal connection with the community because it relates to the hopes and dreams of people today.

The nine-person cast began rehearsals three nights a week for two hours each in June.

Freshman theater major Ruben Ryan played Christian Cackler, one of the play’s main characters. He said because most of the script was taken directly from Cackler’s book, “it was difficult to breathe life into that sort of writing.”

Ryan, who has worked with Ingram for years prior to this play, said he was impressed at how St. Clair managed to pull the play together while balancing a family and a full-time job.

“He’s a pretty inspiring guy,” Ryan said.

Lockwood said Ingram and St. Clair were responsible for the bulk of the work.

“I was just the facilitator,” he said. “I want to make sure they get the credit that’s due.”

Lockwood said he was overwhelmed by Sunday’s turnout.

“When you get 300 people to show up for a local play, you did something right,” he said. “I want to give a big thanks to the community for the support.”

The play was a community effort; however, Lockwood said raising money was like pulling teeth. He said they probably won’t raise enough money to cover production costs, in which case the difference will be covered by Standing Rock’s budget.

The city has been supportive, but for the most part it’s a battle every time Standing Rock does a project, Lockwood said. He describes himself and Ingram as professional art beggars.

“Our whole purpose is to get people to use downtown Kent,” he said. “It’s been ignored for 20 years.”

A jar for donations will be passed around after this weekend’s performances.

Kent resident Kathleen Pierson, a member of Sunday’s audience, said it was a great performance, and the characters and script were very engaging.

“It’s a wonderful community event for all ages.,” she said. “The best use of this space so far.”

Kent residents and audience members Abby Greer and Kelly Paton both agreed the play was a positive, entertaining community effort.

“Standing Rock does lots of great events around town, so we like to come as often as we can,” Paton said.

“I’m very, very grateful that there are forward-thinking people here,” Greer said.

Standing Rock Cultural Arts is a non-profit organization in Kent concerned with bringing people into the downtown area and involving the artistic community by supplementing local schools and Kent State with “well-rounded cultural arts programming,” according to Lockwood and the Standing Rock Web site.

Contact Blossom and Porthouse reporter Bethany Early at [email protected].