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“The Kenosha Verbatim Project,” an original play written by a team of Carthage theatre students and professors about the city’s summer of unrest in 2020, has won the nationwide Rosa Parks Playwriting Award.

Actors Vanetta Powell, Lesley Bracero, and Adrianna Jones participated in the first staged readin... Actors Vanetta Powell, Lesley Bracero, and Adrianna Jones participated in the first staged reading of Carthage's original play, “The Kenosha Verbatim Project,” on May 20, 2023. Through its American College Theater Festival, the Kennedy Center presents the award each year in association with the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self-Development. It recognizes outstanding student- or faculty-written plays that focus on social justice or civil rights topics.

Carthage theatre professors Martin McClendon and Nora Carroll joined forces with students Katie Layendecker ’25 and Rayven Craft ’23 to create “The Kenosha Verbatim Project.”

Awarded research funding through Carthage’s SURE program in 2022, they interviewed 12 people to get their perspectives on the police shooting of Jacob Blake, the subsequent protests, and the confrontation with Kyle Rittenhouse that left two protesters dead.

The resulting work features frank and searing testimony from Mr. Blake’s uncle, as well as community leaders and national political experts. “The Kenosha Verbatim Project” premiered on campus as a staged reading in May 2023, with a cast of alumni and other local actors.

As a 2024 recipient of the Rosa Parks Award, fittingly named for one of the great heroes of the civil rights movement, Carthage Theatre finds itself in illustrious company. Past recipients include Yale University, UCLA, and the University of Texas at Austin.

“Of all the plays submitted from around the nation, I’m surprised and grateful ours was picked,” says Prof. McClendon. “It never would have been possible without the participation of our 12 interviewees, who trusted us with their sacred stories.”

The play is dedicated to the late Rev. Kara Baylor, a longtime campus pastor at Carthage, who became a key voice in the nationwide racial reckoning. Carthage has been creating and presenting verbatim plays since 2016.

“Our theatre faculty always bring such a high level of integrity and artistry to their work,” says Professor Corinne Ness, dean of the Division of Arts and Humanities. “This national recognition reinforces that they’re not only committed to the artistic work that they do with students, but also to the power of theatre to create space for change.”

Prof. McClendon credited the student collaborators for continuing their meaningful work. Katie Layendecker is working on another verbatim play, “Terminal Exhale,” a joint project between the Social Work and Theatre departments examining the effects of gun violence on the American health care system. Carthage alumna Rayven Clark is in the Emerging Artists program at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre.

See Carthage Theatre’s many honors and awards