The Catholic University of America

Feb. 21, 2008

Catholic University President's Festival of the Arts Presents
Wilder and Wilder (Thornton, that is…)
Feb. 25-March 2, 2008

CUA to Celebrate Thornton Wilder's Our Town
with Opera, Drama, Musical Premieres, and Lectures

From Feb. 25 to March 2, The Catholic University of America will present its annual President's Festival of the Arts featuring the Washington, D.C., premiere of Ned Rorem's Our Town opera based on Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

Catholic University President's Festival of the Arts Presents Wilder and Wilder (Thornton, that is…) will also include the world premiere of two "mini-operas" based upon short plays by Wilder, as well as fully staged productions of four short plays with new incidental music, all composed by Catholic University students and faculty. These premieres will follow a roundtable discussion featuring Rorem.

The festival will also showcase film screenings and lectures. The lectures will cover a wide range of topics including the historical and cultural context of Wilder's play, the playwright's legacy, and the process of transforming this classic play into an opera. The roundtable discussion, screenings and lectures have been coordinated by musicologist Grayson Wagstaff, associate professor of music, with the assistance of Andrew H. Weaver, assistant professor of music.

Dean Murry Sidlin noted that "this is the ideal opportunity for people to be doubly reminded of the significance of one of America's most important plays. We've known about Wilder the dramatist. This will be one of the few times that music and the works of Thornton Wilder have been explored through the opera of Our Town and his mini plays."

"Bringing these eminent scholars together is an exciting opportunity for us and especially for our students," Wagstaff says. "This gives them the chance to learn more about these important works of art from a variety of perspectives." Weaver added that "this festival is a true interdisciplinary collaboration between various departments of Catholic University as well as other area institutions."

For more information about Wilder and Wilder (Thornton, that is…), call 202-319-5414 or visit The lectures and films are free and open to the public. Tickets to the play and opera are $20 for general admission and $10 for seniors, CUA faculty and staff, and students. CUA is located at 620 Michigan, N.E., Washington, D.C.

Monday, Feb. 25
4:10 p.m., Lecture: Wilder's Our Town: Play, Film and Opera
Ward Hall, John Paul Hall, Catholic University

Tappan Wilder, nephew of Thornton Wilder and literary executor and scholar of his uncle's works, will speak on "Our Town in the 21st Century." Lincoln Konkle, professor of English at The College of New Jersey, will speak on "Our Town: From Play to Opera." Konkle is the author of several works on Wilder and other 20th-century American playwrights, including the book Thornton Wilder and the Puritan Narrative Tradition.

7:30 p.m., Film Screening: Our Town
Aquinas Hall, Auditorium, Catholic University
Thornton Wilder wrote the screenplay to this 1940 movie, and the score was composed by American composer Aaron Copland. The film will be introduced by Grayson Wagstaff, associate professor, and Lars Helgert, doctoral candidate in musicology at Catholic University.

Tuesday, Feb. 26
11 a.m., Lecture: Wilder, American Culture and New Music for his Plays
Ward Hall, John Paul Hall, Catholic University

Christopher Wheatley, professor of English, will speak on "Thornton Wilder and America in the '30s." Wheatley, a former Thornton Wilder Fellow at Yale University's Beinecke Library, has published numerous articles on Wilder and is the editor of Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, vol. 266, of the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Andrew Simpson, associate professor of music and chair of composition programs, will discuss the new music created by CUA composers for Wilder's short plays.

7:30 p.m., Film Screening: Shadow of a Doubt
Aquinas Hall, Auditorium, Catholic University
This classic 1943 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock features a screenplay written by Thornton Wilder. The film will be introduced by film scholar Max Alvarez, who has served as a film critic, curator, lecturer, panelist and researcher for numerous organizations including the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the National Gallery of Art. Alvarez has also published the Index to Motion Pictures Reviewed by Variety: 1907-1980.

Wednesday, Feb. 27
7:30 p.m., Roundtable Discussion and Premieres of New Music for Wilder's Plays
Ward Hall, Recital Hall, Catholic University

Thornton Wilder's literary executor Tappan Wilder; composer Ned Rorem; and librettist J. D. "Sandy" McClatchy will discuss the opera Our Town and the process of transforming Wilder's classic play into an opera. Grayson Wagstaff will moderate. Following the discussion will be premieres of two "mini-operas:" Brother Fire and Mozart and the Gray Steward, short plays by Wilder, that have been set to music. Four short plays will also premiere with new incidental music by CUA composers - Mozart and the Gray Steward, The Penny that Beauty Spent, Centaurs and Brother Fire. Andrew Simpson has overseen this project; David Searle, director of orchestral activities and conducting studies, will conduct. These performances will feature directors and actors from the Department of Drama and singers and instrumentalists from the music school.

Thursday, Feb. 28
11 a.m., Lecture: Our Town, American Opera and the Visual Arts
Ward Hall, John Paul Hall, Catholic University

Musicologist Elise Kirk, CUA alumna and leading scholar on opera in the United States, will speak on "American Chamber Opera: A Historic and Cultural Overview." Kirk is the author of the book American Opera. Helen Langa, associate professor of art history at American University, will speak on "Enthusiasm and Anguish: American Visual Culture in the 1930s." Langa, a specialist on American art and culture in the 20th century, is the author of the book Radical Art: Printmaking and the Left in 1930s New York.

MEDIA: To cover the festival films, roundtables and lectures, contact Mary McCarthy or Katie Lee in the Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600.