Community Players in Beatrice, in tandem with a team of award-winning documentary filmmakers, are preparing to hold auditions for a documentary theatre project examining the Beatrice 6 case, Helen Wilson and its aftermath.
The Beatrice 6, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Thomas Winslow, James Dean, Kathleen Gonzalez, Debra Shelden and the estate of Joseph White, were convicted in the 1985 rape and murder of Helen Wilson in her downtown Beatrice apartment.
They were arrested in March and April 1989, and ultimately spent a combined 75 years in prison until DNA evidence showed another man had committed the crime. In 2016, a federal jury awarded the six a combined $28.1 million.
The original theatrical production, based on court records, investigative materials, as well as news reports and first-hand accounts, will explore these events and their aftermath.
“I am excited to work with the Beatrice Community Players to stage this documentary theater piece,” the production’s writer and director, Cecilia Rubino, said. “I find that making this kind of theater, taken from court transcripts and interviews, asks us to grapple with essential questions, reevaluate our preconceptions, and challenges us to listen and engage in dialogue. Why does a traumatic event continue to affect people over time and across generations?”
Rubino is an award-winning writer, director and educator based in New York City. She has recently written and directed theater pieces which have performed at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade and Bruno Walter Theaters, The New Victory at 42nd Street, Jefferson Market Playhouse, Irondale Theater Center, and the New York Fringe.
“The film makers approached us as they were working on the documentary,” Community Players’ managing artistic director, Jamie Ulmer, said. “We spent a good amount of time getting to know them and understanding what they’re thinking with this series. I think we really developed a strong respect and collaborative relationship with them. It’s a unique opportunity. It’s not every day that one, we get to create original theater. We do fairly often with our youth shows, but this is something that’s based on some actual things that have happened here, that are still kind of fresh and sensitive for some people, as well. This is a great opportunity for us to engage the community in some really meaningful conversation, and even help with the understanding and healing process surrounding these events that just seem to kind of continue to impact the community today.”
The various stages of this play will also be filmed by a camera crew as a part of a television documentary series directed by Nanfu Wang.
“The family of Helen Wilson, they are aware of the show,” Ulmer said. “The team has met with them, and they’ve interviewed them. So it’s not like this is something that the people who are impacted by this are unaware of. That’s a concern that some people have said. They’ve been involved in the process, so this is not something where we’re trying to exploit the events.”
Ulmer said that the script is still in development, and that he cannot disclose when or where the documentary will air, but called it “a major premium cable network.”
“One thing that we’ve talked about is we want, all things considered, for this to feel as much like a Community Players production as possible,” Ulmer said. “Obviously, when there’s cameras and things like that, the area is going to be a little bit different. But the time commitment is going to be pretty much like a normal show. Rehearsals are going to begin on May 3, and we’re targeting the show to perform for the community in mid-June, tentatively scheduled for June 11-13. At this point, the plan is kind of the regular rehearsal show as if it was a normal show for us. The show is casting five women, eight men, so it’s a fairly large cast. Age range is like from early-20s to mid-50s.”
Auditions will be held April 14 and 15 at the theater, located at 412 Ella St. in Beatrice, with callbacks taking place on April 17.
Ulmer said they are looking for people willing to be collaborative and open, and that they do not need to have prior theater experience or knowledge about the Beatrice 6 case. He said individuals should sign up to audition before Friday, April 9, so that auditions can start being scheduled.
For more information about the show or to sign up to audition, people can go to beatricecommunityplayers.com.