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IU Opera Theater presents 'Dead Man Walking'; Sister Helen Prejean to speak

WHAT: "Dead Man Walking"
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16, 17, 23 and 24
WHERE: Musical Arts Center
TICKETS: $16 to $42 for general public, $10 to $27 for all students. Purchase tickets at the Musical Arts Center box office from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, by phone at 812-855-7433 or online.
VIDEO STREAMING: Oct. 16 and 17 only via IUMusic Live
EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMMING: Religious leaders panel discussion at 7 p.m. Oct. 13, Sister Helen Prejean lecture at 4 p.m. Oct. 18, social justice panel discussion at 7 p.m. Oct. 20; all at Musical Arts Center. Video interview with composer Jake Heggie at 7 p.m. Oct. 21 in Sweeney Hall. All educational programs are free and open to the public.


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- One of the country's -- and the state's -- most controversial issues will take center stage when Indiana University Opera Theater, at the Jacobs School of Music, debuts its production of Jake Heggie's "Dead Man Walking" this month at the Musical Arts Center.

In conjunction with the performances, educational programming also will be presented, including a lecture by Sister Helen Prejean, author of the 1993 nonfiction book of the same name.

The opera, which explores the social and spiritual implications of the death penalty, will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16, 17, 23 and 24. The new production features David Neely on the podium, Jose Maria Condemi stage directing, Steven Kemp designing sets and Linda Pisano assuming costume design duties. The Oct. 16 and 17 performances will be live-streamed via IUMusic Live. Due to graphic content and profanity, this production is for mature audiences.

The English libretto by Terrence McNally is based on Prejean's book and the 1995 Oscar-winning film of the same name directed by Tim Robbins, starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. It recounts the journey of the Roman Catholic nun and her struggle when she became the spiritual adviser to a man on Death Row convicted of a rape and the double murder of two teenagers, while she also attempted to comfort their grieving parents.

"IU Opera Theater was unprepared for the true level of emotional intensity in 'Dead Man Walking,' which has revealed itself during the rehearsal process," said Timothy Stebbins, the Ted Jones Executive Director of Production at the Musical Arts Center. "It is truly a modern dramatic masterpiece, and the impact felt by the artistic team and cast is sure to be translated to our audiences."

Multidisciplinary programming in support of the production has been organized by the Jacobs School of Music and the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics at the IU Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions. Educational programs include the lecture by Prejean, a panel discussion by religious leaders, a social justice panel discussion and a live video interview with composer Jake Heggie. All of these related programs are free and open to the public.

"This production created an opportunity to engage and collaborate with students and faculty across the university and beyond," said Stuart Yoak, executive director of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics and a senior IU scholar.

Faculty in the Maurer School of Law and the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Criminal Justice are teaching classes that focus on the legal and social justice aspects of capital punishment. The Poynter Center is hosting a luncheon in honor of the work Prejean is doing to advance our country's understanding of the ethical and social implications of the death penalty.

Faculty in the Department of Religious Studies are teaching classes on the radical ministry Catholic nuns do in society. The Media School has invited a nationally recognized documentary filmmaker to preview her just-released account of prison life in America. And the Hutton Honors College and the Wells Scholars Program invited a guest lecturer to discuss with students the ethical aspects of the death penalty.

"Staging 'Dead Man Walking' is an example of the forward-thinking approach the Jacobs School of Music takes in supporting challenging and exciting new work, and an outstanding example of how the arts help us recognize the values that define us as individuals and a society," Yoak said.

"The two panel discussions coordinated by Stuart Yoak, in conjunction with a lecture by Sister Helen, create an opportunity for our patrons to become personally immersed in the backstory of crime and punishment, how it can destroy the lives of both the guilty and the innocent, and whether or not the death penalty is an effective tool for justice and healing," Stebbins said.

"Dead Man Walking" public events

  • Religious leaders panel discussion -- 7 p.m. Oct. 13; Musical Arts Center Lobby. Panelists: Rabbi Brian Besser (Jewish), the Rev. Bill Breeden (Unitarian Universalist), the Rev. Helen Hempfling (Disciples of Christ) and the Rev. Tom Kammel (Baptist).
  • Opera performances -- 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16, 17, 23 and 24; Musical Arts Center Auditorium.
  • Sister Helen Prejean lecture -- 4 p.m. Oct. 18; Musical Arts Center Auditorium. Book signing will follow, with books available for purchase.
  • Social justice panel discussion -- 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 20; Musical Arts Center Lobby. Panelists: Larry A. Mackey, former federal prosecuting attorney; Jody Madeira, professor of law and the Louis F. Niezer Faculty Fellow, Maurer School of Law; Marla Sandys, associate professor and director of undergraduate affairs, IU Department of Criminal Justice; and Randy Steidl, former death row prisoner, now exonerated.
  • Live video interview with composer Jake Heggie -- 7 p.m. Oct. 21; Sweeney Hall. Benjamin Smith, executive director of New Voices Opera and a Ph.D. candidate in the Jacobs School of Music, will interview Heggie, the composer of "Dead Man Walking," via live-streamed video.

Co-sponsors for the panel discussions are Indiana University's Department of Religious Studies, Maurer School of Law, Department of Criminal Justice, Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions, Hutton Honors College, Wells Scholars Program and The Media School, along with Amnesty International and the Indiana Abolition Coalition. The video interview is co-sponsored by New Voices Opera and Project Jumpstart.