BUIES CREEK - Campbell University’s founder J.A. Campbell started his school during an era when the South was still rebuilding from the Civil War and kept it going when a massive fire in 1900 all but destroyed his small campus.
President Leslie Campbell led then Campbell Junior College through World War II, which plucked nearly every male student from his school during the 1940s. Norman A. Wiggins took over Campbell College in 1967 during the Civil Rights Era and took Campbell University into the 21st Century.
How these historical figures in the school’s history handled the obstacles before them is the theme of a play penned by Associate Professor of Theatre E. Bert Wallace, in honor of Campbell’s 125th Anniversary.
“Per Aspera” - the second half of Campbell’s motto, “Ad Astra Per Aspera,” which translates to “To the Stars, Through Difficulty” - is scheduled for 7 p.m. on March 23 and 24 in Turner Auditorium. Admission is free.
Wallace said the name is a nod to a play written by a Campbell professor in 1987 which used the first half of the motto, “Ad Astra,” to celebrate the University’s centennial. The play, which will feature students in Campbell’s Theatre Arts program, will be what he calls “historical fiction.”
“It features characters from Campbell’s history, mainly the presidents, and scenes involving moments in the school’s history,” Wallace said of the production, which will have a run-time of about 40 minutes. “They’re not traditional dramatized scenes, like J.A. Campbell’s founding of the school, but instead imagined conversations and private moments involving all four presidents. It’s a dramatic take on history, as opposed to a documentary.”
Wallace offered the play as part of one of his Theatre Arts courses this semester, and students were required to research Campbell history while preparing for their roles. The play will accompany a short film, also produced by Wallace and his class, about the history of Campbell’s Theatre program.
“While researching, I came across a play written for Campbell’s 50th anniversary in 1937, written by Paul Green,” Wallace said, referring to the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who penned, “The Lost Colony,” about Sir Walter Raleigh’s failed attempts to establish a settlement in the colonies in the 1580s.
Green’s play was performed in an outdoor amphitheater that once stood on Campbell’s campus where the Taylor Bott Rogers Fine Arts Building is today.
“In his day, he was a big deal,” Wallace said. “He taught in Chapel Hill, but he maintained connections with Campbell, and in the 30s, he oversaw the construction of that theater.”
For more information on “Per Aspera,” contact Wallace by email at [email protected].