Kent State:A Requiem

Kent State: A Requiem was performed at Kent in 1990 and 1995. Both of these productions were produced and directed by Dr. Payne. The script to the 1990 performance saw the addition of dialog
that reflected the University's decision to construct a May 4 memorial on the Kent State Campus and the 1995 script included a new character, Mary Vecchio, the runaway from Florida who was captured in John Filo's famous photo, screaming over the body of slain student, Jeffrey Miller. The addition of Mary  Vecchio as a character was prompted by a request from Mary Vecchio herself to have an acting role in the play. Rather than have her play one of the established roles, a new character was written into the show. Thus, Mary Vecchio returned to Kent State for the first time since May 4, 1970 and performed herself in this new updated version of Kent State:A Requiem. And, as is the practice with additions, the role of Mary Vecchio has remained part of the production.

Dr. J. Gregory Payne with Mary Vecchio at the Kent State
Kiva, 1995 production of Kent State: A Requiem (right)

Dr. J. Gregory Payne escorts Mayr Vecchio onto stage following the 1995 production of Kent State:A Requiem at Kent State

Kent State:A Requiem cast from 1995 production at Kent State. Mary Vecchio with actors from 1995 production.
Scene from 1995 production of Kent State:A Requiem performed at Kent State

kent state: a Requiem (2000)

We now move on to year 2000 and the 30th anniversary . The plan had been for Dr. Payne to produce the play  from Emerson College in Boston as he had done in 1990 and 1995 and to present it at Kent. However, securing funding for May 4 Task Force Commemoration programs  from Kent State's student government has rarely proven easy nor without controversy. This year, it seems, Kent State's right-wing, republican student government had run out of money. While most of the May 4 Task Force program was funded, funds were not forthcoming  for Dr. Payne and the Requiem. Those fiscally conservative young caretakers of Kent State student's "student fees" had allocated over $60,000 for a one time appearance by Colin Powell, allegedly a war hero, and maybe even a future presidential (Republican) candidate.  This same group of student "representatives" (or a clone thereof) had allocated to Bob Dole (former Republican presidential candidate and loser) over $50,000 to come speak at Kent State last year.
Well, Colin never agreed to come and it seemed that the money would become available for other uses, of which the Requiem could be one. However, the funding was denied again because, in the interim between funding requests, the May 4 Task Force had mentioned the play on its website and student government forbids advertising before funding is approved. I will let you try to figure that one out.

But then a STARR appeared in the sky and talked to Dr. Payne who talked to Kendra and the production was brought to Kent by the Youngstown Players.

I am not a theatre critic. And,  I find it difficult to judge the actions of those people I consider friends. So I will leave that up to others and I will just comment briefly on my experiences with the Requiem this year.   Kendra had invited the cast to come to Kent so she could 'size them up' in preparation for costuming the production. (This production marks the fifth Requiem that Kendra has done. ) We met in Prentice Lot on the Kent campus and then, after  Kendra did measurements, we took   the cast  on a tour of the May 4 site. Giving a tour of the site is always a learning experience for me despite the fact that I am the one who is supposed to be dishing out the knowledge. I learn what I need to know about what I don't know about May 4, 1970. I learn about how people feel about what we do here in Kent, Ohio to remember May 4, 1970. And I watch and listen as they respond to walking on historic and sacred ground....and I get to know them.

Some of Requiem's Youngstown Players in Prentice Lot (Photo by Kendra)
Some of Requiem's Youngstown Playhouse
members in Prentice Lot (photo by Kendra)

And I understood  then that the production of Requiem would not just be a another part in a play for the actors nor just a chore for the technical staff, but an experience for them that would survive well beyond the final curtain call.

On the day of the play, May 3, 2000, in the Kiva, on Starr's 30th birthday, I sat about two rows from the stage which put me in-between Florence Schroeder, Bill Schroeder's mom and the action on stage. While the actor playing Bill Schroeder recited his lines and the actor playing Mrs. Schroeder responded, I kept "sneaking" peaks over my shoulder at Florence Schroeder.  Bill (the actor) had just said how worried he

Florence Schroeder at 2000 production of Kent State:A Requiem at Kent State
Florence Schroeder

was for his mom, now that he was dead, "I still worry about mother...we were close...but then...that's not adequate to describe how we were...She knew me better than anyone else." And I looked behind me and saw Florence nod her head over and over in affirmation as she relived the truth of those words. As the stage Mrs. Schroeder responded with,  "I try to remember the joy that Bill's life brought to all of us instead of...At least  I have these pictures." And while slides of photos of Bill at various stages in his life flashed on the screen on the stage, I once again looked around. Florence was still nodding, but faster, and tears were evident on her pensive face as she stared at the screen on the stage, just beyond the actor, portraying her

Joseph Bukovinsky portraying Bill Schroeder in the 2000 production of Kent State: A Requiem at Kent State
Actor portraying
Bill Schroeder

son who sat silently on the edge of the stage.

And then I "lost it"  and began to shed some tears of my own. Oh well, so much for the detached objectivity of a drama critic. The Requiem will always evoke extremes of emotion in me, whether it be sadness and tears as in this case or anger as when this dialog takes place:

MS. SHROEDER To those opposed to the war, dissent was inevitable. Many students at Kent State were angry.
JEFF Pissed at Nixon for sending in troops into Cambodia.
SANDY Angry at a "Silent Majority" for allowing him to do it.
BILL Fed up with an administration at Kent who sidestepped the issues.
ALLISON Enraged by professors who refused to take stands.

It seems that so many elements went into making murder at Kent State and that there were so many points along the path where common sense and compassion could have intervened to prevent what did happen. Yet it did happen and you know as you listen to the victims and one of their mothers, that it was as though it did not happen by accident. And you get angry. And Kent State:A Requiem tells you much more than you ever knew and the Youngstown Playhouse is  to be praised for bringing their production to Kent, where too many of its students just don't know enough about the history of their own school.

Kent State:A Requiem should not be limited to being presented on May 4 where it must compete with other related May 4 programs and even times and venues. The Youngstown Playhouse needs to come back. Its message is timeless and will always need to be told.


Kent State:A Requiem (2000) photo album
Meet the cast in their roles. Photos accompanied by dialog from play.

Youngstown Playhouse playlist and credits.
And how to get in touch with them.

PostScript-Kent State:A Requiem will also be perfomed as part of a Boston conference on Kent and Jackson State, entitled "Writing the History(ies) of Kent State/Jackson State: Reflections from Families, Victims, Journalists, Scholars and Artists" to be held in Boston on November 16 or 17 this year. There will also be a presentation of "A Mother's Dance."   The conference is sponsored by the Center for Ethics in Political and Health Communication at Emerson College. For more information you can contact Dr. Payne at

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