‘A People’s Theatre’

Years before Charles Kuralt did it, Carolina had a champion of the common people who understood the value of taking his show on the road.

His name was Frederick Koch – the legendary Proff Koch – who founded the Carolina Playmakers nearly a century ago.

Whereas Kuralt hit the road in search of stories about people in out-of-the-way places, Koch went to out-of-the-way places so people in small towns across North Carolina could find something they might not have seen: people on stage who looked and sounded, and even seemed to be just like them.

There was a good reason for that, said University Historian Cecelia Moore: “They were.”

The stories and characters of folk plays were written by the same students who acted them out on stage.

Back then, almost all those students were the sons and daughters of North Carolina, and their stories were drawn, as Koch wrote in Theater Magazine in 1922, from “their observation of the lives of their own people.”

Photographs, artifacts, playbills and original documents that explore the founding and history of this groundbreaking collegiate group are the focus of the exhibit “Making a People’s Theatre: Proff Koch and the Carolina Playmakers,” on display in the North Carolina Collection Gallery in Wilson Library through May 31.

A graphic showing connections of Koch to many actors.The exhibit features pictures of the various buses that transported the student actors through the years, including a bus from the 1920s dubbed the “Playmakers Special.”

In connection with the exhibit, Moore – whose day job is serving as special assistant to Chancellor Carol L. Folt – will give a lecture on April 8 titled “A Model for Folk Theatre: The Carolina Playmakers.”

The lecture, she said, draws heavily from her dissertation for the Ph.D. in history she earned from Carolina last spring.

Moore, who graduated from Barry University in Miami with a bachelor’s degree in theater, was inspired to study the history of Carolina Playmakers after she was hired as the development director for PlayMakers Repertory Company in 1995.

The casts for the productions of today’s professional theater in residence at Carolina are drawn from faculty members who are professional actors and their graduate students, as well as guest artists and Equity actors, but there always seemed to be snippets of conversation about the Carolina Playmakers of old, Moore said.

Read more from the University Gazette article by Gary Moss.

Graphic created by Melanie Busbee of UNC News Services.

March 20, 2014.