Student Completes Theatrical Masterstroke
If there were moments during her senior year that Kirsten Winston questioned the sanity of attempting to complete an ambitious musical adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities, those thoughts passed quickly. For the multidimensional Winston, it didn’t seem to register that, beyond her 21-credit course load, a competitive moot court schedule, and exhausting nights crafting songs and narrative at 3:00 a.m., her play might never make it to the stage.
So when Winston stepped up to a standing ovation in May 2007 following Eden Troupe’s spring finale of A Tale of Two Cities, having written the script, songs, and musical score as well as starring in the production, she felt simply a peaceful sense of completion—and the quiet knowledge that God had brought full circle a theatrical vision birthed in her early teens.
“It was an exhausting semester, very difficult,” she recalled. “A lot of the script was written at two and three in the morning, after everything else was done. The last 10 pages of the script and several new songs were completed around the moot court national tournament [in Virginia Beach],” in which she and her partner, Caleb Dalton, earned individual speaker awards as members of PHC's third-place team.
Courtesy of the FamilyPHC student Kirsten Winston starred in her own stage adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities.
Aside from the grueling academic schedule and wrestling with final script drafts under cover of darkness, she turned in another defining performance before a line of script had ever been read: She kept her involvement in the project a secret until after the play’s final curtain call.
“I kept it a secret because I didn’t want people to think it was a joke,” she explained. “I didn’t want people to know I was the author, so I presented it to Eden Troupe under a pseudonym, not knowing whether it would be accepted or not.”
Even among PHC’s notoriously hard-working students, the scope and excellence of Winston’s effort caused jaws to drop throughout PHC’s Town Hall, where the final credits were read.
“It was a great artistic success,” wrote PHC Provost Gene Edward Veith in an all-student email following the production. “And that one of our students even wrote the play—and wrote it so well—is another tribute to our College and to our mission.”
One might reasonably ask why Winston, or anyone, would subject themselves to such a regimen simply to bring what began as a childhood fancy to a college stage. The answer lies in A Tale of Two Cities itself, in the almost biblical parable of sacrifice and redemption Winston saw in the historical novel by Charles Dickens. As a 13-year-old, Winston three times abandoned the intimidating novel before watching a black-and-white film adaptation of A Tale, from which she detected its unmistakable thread of Christian love and sacrifice.
“I have to admit that, as a child, I found the book dry and boring,” she says, “but after seeing the film starring Ronald Colman, I was struck instantly by its parallels to the Gospel story. I immediately wanted to turn it into a musical adaptation profiling those themes of redemption and self-sacrifice.”
Thus began an eight-year labor that Winston describes as “my attempt to write the great American musical.” With high hopes of completing the play as part of PHC’s Directed Research and Writing program, as a freshman Winston saw it suddenly stall with a half-written script, a handful of songs, and very dubious notions of how, or if, it would ever be produced. Setting it reluctantly aside amid the busyness of college life, she doubted its future.
“I thought it was a script that I had written just for me and God,” she recalls.
It wasn’t until her senior year, en route to a moot court tournament, that her teammate, Dalton, offered encouragement. Noting that Eden Troupe’s spring performance hadn’t yet been determined, he suggested she complete and submit her script. Taken aback, only reluctantly willing to consider that the play’s time might have come, Winston began drafting the play’s final 60 pages, chopping characters, condensing scenes, and omitting extraneous plot points. She also began composing new songs and, in furious 3:00 a.m. writing sessions, “distilling the play’s major themes down to big impressions.”
The resulting stage musical proved, by any measure, to be a resounding dramatic success, with Winston and a seasoned Eden Troupe cast delighting three consecutive crowds at sold-out performances. Still, the author guarded her identity from all but the troupe’s close-knit directorial team.
“It was a wonderful experience,” says Eden Troupe Assistant Director Heather Terwilliger. “There were moments during rehearsals when Kirsten was almost simultaneously teaching everyone their parts without sheet music, sitting at the piano writing music, tweaking the script, and practicing her part. It takes a lot of energy to believe in something that much.” Winston also credits director April Wright with a significant role in the drafting and editing process.
The play proved to be the shining capstone of Winston’s already distinguished PHC career. Having graduated with highest honors with a classical liberal arts degree, Winston successfully copyrighted her play and is enjoying a leisurely summer, praying about the future, working as a counselor at PHC’s teen camps, and weighing offers from churches and theater groups who want to perform A Tale of Two Cities.
“I find it amazing that God gave this project back to me in this way,” she says, beaming. “God's hand of blessing was on every aspect of it, and I couldn’t have asked for a better, more dedicated cast. To think that I was just a 13-year-old who wanted to write a musical showing people what it means to have somebody else die for you. This play shows how far vengeance and hatred can go . . . and the power of love to reconcile and redeem it.”
To order a CD soundtrack of A Tale of Two Cities (recorded by the original Eden Troupe cast), email firstname.lastname@example.org.
|About the author
David Halbrook is director of communications at Patrick Henry College.