"A New Home for Liberty"l has united a local cast and crew in an effort to bring West Virginia history to the university stage and classrooms across the country.
A live action play and film, the production has paired members of the community and Shepherd University's Mass Communications department.
Director and Shepherdstown resident, Joe Yates discussed the project's beginnings and evolution during rehearsals this week.
Written by Thomas Rod, an attorney based in Charleston, "A New Home for Liberty," is being produced as part of the J.R. Clifford Project, a nonprofit named in honor of West Virginia's first African American lawyer.
According to Yates, the nonprofit, which serves primarily to tell the history of Clifford's work, has also been working to develop learning materials about important aspects of West Virginia history.
"Its mission is to get info out about not only J.R. Clifford, but also the Constitution of West Virginia, the abolition of slavery and the preservation of the union during the Civil War," he said.
As he explained "A New Home for Liberty," tells the story of a meeting between Clifford and Granville Hall, an early West Virginia secretary of state, who served as recorder during the West Virginia statehood conventions that resulted in the formation of the state.
Featuring an all volunteer cast, the fourth stage performance of the play includes local attorney Frank Hill as President Abraham Lincoln, former state Delegate John Doyle as the convention chairman, as well as a host of local area acting newcomers and professionals and features performances by the Ambassadors for Christ Asbury United Methodist Church choir.
Local resident Tony Russo who portrayed a character based on real-life delegate Hiram Haymond, part of the pro-slavery contingent at the convention, discussed the production's purpose in an interview earlier this week.
"This play really brings the history to light," he said calling it timely, as feature films like Lincoln and Django Unchained have recently explored Civil War history in popular culture.
In a phone interview, John Doyle stressed the project's unique importance.
"It's my belief that the creation of West Virginia was one of the two most important political events of the Civil War," he said. "I think it's a story that the whole country ought to know."
The stage performance for "A New Home for Liberty" is free and open to the public at 7:30 p.m. tonight, at the Frank Arts Center on Shepherd Universitys campus.
The performance tonight will be filmed by members of the university student body and will later be edited together with portions shot previously this week.
Yates said that total production for the film could take several months, as the students will work together for the rest of the semester to edit the project.
He explained that state Sen. John Unger and Del. Stephen Skinner pushed to create a film version of the play after its original performance in Charleston last year, as something students in every classroom could experience.
"We're hoping that at some point that will happen," Yates said, discussing the possibility of pitching it to national TV stations like PBS.
To start, the group will work to get it included in West Virginia schools' curriculum and for Yates, the entire effort is characteristic of the state's commitment to historical education.
"It's really West Virginians coming together for West Virginians, to get education out there," he said.