Evangeline Drowning is written and directed by Kurt Gerard Heinlein, an assistant professor of theatre at Missouri State. Heinlein developed Evangeline Drowning through interviews and research, taking quotes and ideas, and developing them theatrically. The play takes its title from Longfellow's "Evangeline," from which the "heroine" has become a cultural icon in Acadian culture.
Industry and development in southern Louisiana is causing the rapid depletion of wetlands — approximately one football field's worth every 15 minutes, according to production notes. These areas are becoming more susceptible to hurricane damage because of a lack of wetlands buffer.
Heinlein, who conducted on-site interviews over the course of a year, told Playbill.com, "I met with teens in both group…private setting(s). My questions aimed at uncovering what their understanding of the wetlands problems are, what the solutions may be, and how they have impacted their personal lives and respective cultures.
"What I uncovered was both remarkable and tragic. I found a population of young people who were literally dying to tell their story — a story which was clouded amidst corporate agendas, state politics and post-Katrina finger-pointing. It is my hope that Evangeline Drowning provides them a voice, and in doing so, also opens our lens to the wider range of socio-environmental issues we're currently challenged with."
Here's a monologue reflecting the feelings of a male teen from LeFource Parish: "For me…it was all the hurt and feelings of rejection that was happening underneath the everyday shit that made it so bad. I was doing this internal battle, I guess, coming to terms that I wasn't right about everything and that my country has some serious fucking issues. It put my whole identity into question. I still love my country. I'm still ready to serve and lay down my life for my country. I am. I believe in its core, its values, and its purpose as a world leader. But I… after the hurricane, I was embarrassed and fucking hurt.
"I couldn't believe how the government had let us down…is still letting us down. It was unbelievable how clueless and selfish our government was during all that. It made a lot of things clear for me. I was suddenly embarrassed that I had gone to bat so many times in defense of this government's values, and even offered my life service, but to what, to a country that's ignoring its own people in need? I was just embarrassed. Embarrassed and ashamed I guess. I've always worn national pride on my sleeve like a badge of honor. My dad was a soldier. So was my grandfather…Vietnam. Korea. Desert Storm. I was hurt too. I love this country."
The cast of Evangeline Drowning includes guest artist Adam Joyce, an adjunct professor for the theatre and dance and English departments, as the narrator, with Missouri State students Joel Cornwell (Tice), Rachel Flanigan (Ronnie), Rachel Goodwin (Celia), Camille Claire Hendricks (Renee), Margaret Howard (Dru/Piano), Laura Jenkins (Saranda), Marnie Liesel (Roxanne/Drums), Samantha Long (Sonya), Drew Maestas (Jackie), Jessica Morgan (Tricia/Guitar), Taylor Paul (Chad), Rolando Rodriquez (JD), Veronica Schlette (Girl), Brandt Shields (Thomas/Trumpet), Matt Tassell (Thoreau), Josh Watford (Ledeux-Everett) and Rebecca Yi (Michelle/Fiddle).
Director and playwright Heinlein currently serves as the coordinator of the BFA acting program at Missouri State University. An actor by trade, he has performed in several productions in New York and around the country and completed his PhD in theatre from Louisiana State University. In 2008 he published "Green Theatre: Promoting Ecological Preservation of Humanity and Nature," which asserted that theatre can positively impact our socio-environmental behavior. Evangeline Drowning marks his first full-length theatrical work.
Heinlein's next project, Clouded Sky, "explores the story of Miklos Radnoti, a talented, young Hungarian poet who died in a prison camp during World War II," he told Playbill.com. "After his death, his wife retrieved a book of poetry from the pocket of the jacket he died in. That poetry tells the story, like those kids in Louisiana, of a voice that was silenced — only to emerge full volume with a message the world can learn from."
Evangeline Drowning features music and lyrics by Mighty Kate, costume design by Louise M. Herman, sound design by Mark Putnam, scenic design by Robert Little and marketing direction by Mark Templeton. Students featured on the creative team are Nathan McVay (assistant to the director); Katie Rogers (stage manager); Kacey Monke (assistant stage manager) and Ethan Steimel (lighting designer).
Evangeline Drowning was developed through the "Vanishing Wetlands, Vanishing Cultures" project, which was supported by Missouri State University Future's Grant and the College of Arts and Letters.
The production plays Missouri State University's Coger Theatre, 1147 E. Grand Street, Springfield, MO, and will then travel to the Bayou Playhouse in Lockport, LA, on March 7; Southern Repertory Theatre in New Orleans on March 8; and to Swine Palace (Louisiana State University) in Baton Rouge, LA, on March 9.
For tickets and information, visit missouristatetix.com and theatreanddance.missouristate.edu.