The words “I was there” resound through Ike Holter’s play “Hit the Wall.”
Set during the 1969 Stonewall riots, the play merges imagination with history, and gives a close-up look at a powerful event that helped to ignite the gay rights movement.
David Prete is the director of the show, which is a production of the Illinois State University School of Theatre and Dance and runs Feb. 14–22 at ISU’s Westhoff Theatre. Prete was drawn to the compelling message within the play.
“This is not one person’s story; it’s a group story,” Prete explained. “I think it’s an important play, given where we are. The idea of diversity, the idea of discrimination and the things that we’re all talking about now. This play speaks directly to what’s happening today through this very historic event.”
“Hit the Wall” evokes the Stonewall era through the stories of a variety of different characters. One thing they have in common is the shared experience of discrimination leading to explosive revolt and a shared phrase: “I was there.”
“All the characters say that,” Prete said. “Any major event that happens that people attended gets ritualized after the fact. I was in New York City for 9/11. That changed me. That changed many, many people. And I think there is something about telling people you were there for that because it had a deep effect on you.”
And I think all the characters who were there in this play, they need people to know how this changed how they saw life, how this changed them personally. Some of them, it actually changed their physical bodies because they had been beaten so badly. Some it changed idealistically, some it changed politically.”
“So, you get to get in front of an audience and say, ‘This thing you need to know about me, it changed me, and it’s not just me; it’s everybody that was there.’”
“Hit the Wall” was written in 2012, and that recent inception is critical to the young performers in the cast, said Prete.
“You give this to the younger generation now, that’s of great importance. That, in a way, says ‘We’re picking up where you left off.'"
There’s a passing of a torch in this play, Prete added.
“From a theatrical standpoint, as an actor you are embodying this torch. You’re going to put your body up on the stage and behave in such a way that depicts somebody who was actually there. It’s a different way to experience it and to pass it along.”
Working with the young cast of “Hit the Wall” has provided Prete with a satisfying experience, and he hopes for the same for the performers.
“It’s really exciting for me,” he enthused. “I think that it’s great to watch these revelations get lit up in the eyes of these young actors. It’s inspiring when they latch on to a deep truth about society and how it changes and how they are now playing a part in that.”
“I wonder if this play is going to change them. I hope it does.”
“Hit the Wall” runs Feb. 14–22 at Westhoff Theatre on the Illinois State University campus.
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