‘Am I Blue’ At 40: 1974 Production Still Fresh In The Minds Of Alumni

EXCERPT
The 40th anniversary production of Am I Blue, a one-act play by SMU alumna Beth Henley ’74, will be staged March 28, 29 and 30 at Owens Art Center in Meadows School of the Arts. It is free and open to the public. SMU student Ally Van Deuren ’15 plays Ashbe, the female lead. Van Deuren got in touch with Henley, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981 for Crimes of the Heart, and other alumni involved in the play for their perspectives on that pivotal production. Here’s an excerpt from her story:

AM I BLUE: 40 Years Later, a One-Act Play by Beth Henley Returns to SMU

Meadows alums share their memories from the original production in 1974; director of first production to attend Friday performance

By Ally Van Deuren (B.F.A. Theatre, B.A. Journalism, ’15)

When Becca Rothstein (B.F.A. Theatre, ’16) approached me about acting in Am I Blue, a one-act play by SMU alumna Beth Henley (B.F.A. Theatre, ’74), I was overjoyed.

Nicholas Costello (B.F.A. Theatre, '17) as John Polk Richards and Ally Van Deuren (B.F.A. Theatre, '15) as Ashbe in the 40th anniversary of AM I BLUE by Beth Henley, opening on Friday, March 28 in room B150. Photograph by Liz Crowell

Nicholas Costello (B.F.A. Theatre, ’17) as John Polk Richards and Ally Van Deuren (B.F.A. Theatre, ’15) as Ashbe in the 40th anniversary of AM I BLUE by Beth Henley, opening on Friday, March 28 in room B150.
Photograph by Liz Crowell

The play is set in 1968 and centers around two troubled teens from two very different walks of life who come together by a chance meeting and share their stories. Written by Henley in her sophomore year (1972), the play is making its return to Meadows 40 years later.

I always have a wonderful experience doing SMU Student Theatre (SMUST) shows, as I often get to work with my immensely talented colleagues on new and challenging material. But I could never have prepared myself for the excitement that this process has given me.

The rest of the cast and I reached out to Charley Helfert, who worked in the Division of Theatre at SMU from 1970 to 2013, hoping he could give us some insight on the original production. He got us in contact with several alumni who shared their personal memories of the very first production back in 1974.

These alums are enthusiastic, helpful, encouraging and wonderfully excited that we are performing Henley’s Am I Blue again.

“I can’t believe the responses I have gotten from [the alumni],” Helfert said. “You can’t imagine how much it means to them. This is their life you are celebrating.”

Jill Christine Peters (B.F.A. Theatre, ’74) directed the original production of the play and will attend Friday’s performance and speak to audiences beforehand.

I went out on a limb and sent an email to Ms. Henley, not expecting a response. When she emailed me back within 12 hours, I was starstruck.

John Tillotson as John Polk Richards (left) and Marcie Glazer Newland as Ashbe in a publicity shot for the original production of Am I Blue by Beth Henley (1974). Courtesy John Tillotson.

John Tillotson as John Polk Richards (left) and Marcie Glazer Newland as Ashbe in a publicity shot for the original production of Am I Blue by Beth Henley (1974). Courtesy John Tillotson.

“I was so happy to read in your e-mail that SMU is performing Am I Blue this year,” Henley wrote. “Really forty years ago? Yikes.”

Henley, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981 for her play Crimes of the Heart, was active in the undergraduate theatre program while at SMU.

“It was nerve-racking for me at the time,” Henley wrote. “My first produced play. I used the pen name Amy Peach.”

Peters, the original director, gave us insight on Ms. Henley.

“Beth was a funny sweet soul. She was very humble about her writing – self-deprecating, even, and could not believe anyone was recommending her work,” said Peters. “She shyly handed me her script with the caveat that she would be glad to change it up so it would not be so ‘corny.’

“Other playwriting students were self-promoting, shopping their plays around the directing program hoping to get produced, but not Beth. She was kind of quietly writing under the radar,” said Peters.

Not only did Peters give us insight on Henley during their time in the Theatre Division at SMU, she also gave us a glimpse into the play’s history and context.

 Read the full story here.

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