If you’re into modern romance and local history, come out and see the Seward County Community College Theater Department’s production of “That’s Mighty Liberal.”
Performances are 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 8 and Friday, Feb. 9, and a 1 p.m. matinee on Saturday, Feb. 10 at the Showcase Theater on the SCCC campus. Tickets are on sale now.
The play was written by SCCC communications and theater instructor Michele Van Hessen and adapted from the book “Liberal and Seward County” by local historian Lidia Hook-Gray.
Van Hessen came up with the idea for the play when she went to the Liberal Area Chamber of Commerce looking for information about the community.
“When I first came here, the first thing that I did was I went to the chamber of commerce and I said ‘Hi. I just got hired to teach here and I would like any books you have on Liberal so I could understand where I am,’” Van Hessen said. “They said there are none written, but there is this great pictorial book. I took the book, opened it, read the introduction and I said, ‘This is brilliant. This has got to be a play because the story was fantastic.’”
After finding out who was the author and where she could find her, Van Hessen said she went “storming” into Hook-Gray’s office and told her she wanted to want to write a play about her book.
Hook-Gray’s initial response was shock, but she was willing.
“More power to her if she can take a pictorial history and turn it into a play,” Hook-Gray said.
Van Hessen took a cue from Shakespeare in her play, weaving a back story into the history of Liberal.
“A friend once told me that when you find something like this, you need stories, so go to the classics. So I went to Shakespeare who is my favorite classic writer. It’s about two families and young romance,” Van Hessen said, adding, “We hear about all the historical events that happen in Liberal. We show the history of Liberal throughout.”
The play will actually incorporate all the pictures – 289 in all – from the book into the play.
“I want the community to be able to see and identify their relatives,” Van Hessen said. “I’ve had many people come up to me and say, ‘My great grandfather did this and my great grandfather did that’ and so he’s in the book and on the screen. The pictures span from the 1850s to the 1950s.”
The development of the play from idea to production mirrors the process by which Hook-Gray’s book made its way to print. Long known as a local, self-taught historian who enjoyed chasing down intriguing stories as a hobby, Hook-Gray was approached in 2010 by Arcadia Publishing. The company specializes in pictorial histories of counties and cities throughout the United States. Less than a year later, a book on Liberal and Seward County was published.
The deadline for the book was two months, but Hook-Gray was up for the challenge.
“Fortunately, I have the good graces of the Seward County Historical Society and I have a pretty good size collection of my own,” she said of putting together a collection of photographs. “It was a lot of nights, but a lot of fun. I love old pictures and all the stories.”
Van Hessen took the title of her play from the story of how Liberal got its name.
From the introduction of Hook-Gray’s book, “… S.S. Rogers dug a 90-foot deep well by hand to supply water for his homestead. Word of mouth from thirsty travelers soon had a trail beat into the prairie past Rogers’ home. When asked what was owed for the water, Rogers would always reply, ‘Nuthin.’ To that, the thankful visitors would say, ‘That’s mighty liberal!’”
Tickets are $5 for adults, $2 for seniors 65+ and children under 16, and free for SCCC students with ID. Purchase tickets in advance at the Humanities Department or at the door on the night of the show. For more information, call (620) 417-1451.
SCCC communications and theater instructor Michele Van Hessen (left) adapted her play from Lidia Hook-Gray’s book “Liberal and Seward County.”