National media contact: Richard Kornberg, 212-944-9444, Richard@KornbergPR.com
Merrimack Repertory Theatre: Dan Berube, 978-654-7595, Daniel.Berube@merrimackrep.org
UMass Lowell: Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209, Christine_Gillette@uml.edu
LOWELL, Mass. - Merrimack Repertory Theatre and the University of Massachusetts Lowell announced today – which would have been Jack Kerouac’s 90th birthday – that they will present the world premiere of the Lowell native and literary icon’s only full-length play, “Beat Generation,” in a staged reading for eight performances only.
The world premiere of the play is the centerpiece of the 2012 Jack Kerouac Literary Festival, which will be held Oct. 10 through Oct. 14 in Lowell, Kerouac’s hometown. The festival – held every two years by UMass Lowell, Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! and numerous other community partners – features a variety of programs inspired by Kerouac’s works and life in Lowell and showcases prominent contemporary authors. Anita Shreve, Russell Banks and Andre Dubus III were among the writers who participated in the last Kerouac Literary Festival. This year’s theme is “Writing and Music.”
“Beat Generation” is a story of friendship and karma set in the 1950s and its characters and dialogue capture the Beat mentality at the roots of American counterculture as only Kerouac could. The play’s premiere is being presented in Lowell with the support and collaboration of Kerouac Literary Estate representative John Sampas.
“At midcentury, Jack Kerouac and his fellow Beat writers posed a series of pertinent questions regarding the assumptions of the Cold War, the attractions of suburban family life, the costs of conspicuous consumption and what they saw as American spiritual deprivation,” said Todd Tietchen, a UMass Lowell English professor and expert on Beat Generation writers. “Those questions take center stage in ‘Beat Generation,’ as the principal figures of this important literary movement reaffirm their friendship in a search for alternative approaches to life.”
The play’s premiere and the festival come during what many are calling “The Year of Kerouac,” which also includes the theatrical release of the feature film “On the Road,” based on the author’s most famous book and the U.S. publication of the recently discovered Kerouac novel, “The Sea is My Brother.”
“This is a moment of literary and theatrical history,” said MRT Artistic Director Charles Towers. “When the ‘Beat Generation’ manuscript was discovered in a warehouse in 2005, it made international news. Such is the remarkable influence of Kerouac on contemporary culture. Now, ‘Beat Generation’ will be first spoken aloud on the stage in Lowell, his native city, and it is fitting that Lowell’s professional theater company – Merrimack Repertory Theatre – is producing its world premiere.”
MRT has a history of being the first to present Kerouac’s works to audiences. Its performance space, known as Liberty Hall, was the site in the 1980s of several sold-out screenings of the premiere of John Antonelli’s documentary, “Kerouac, the Movie” and in the 1990s, the stage adaptation of Kerouac’s Lowell-set romance, “Maggie Cassidy.”
UMass Lowell is home to the Jack and Stella Kerouac Center for Public Humanities, which works to strengthen the study of American culture through academic and other programs, including serving as the home for the Kerouac Writer-in-Residence program, the New England Poetry Conference and the literary festival. The center was established with the support of the Kerouac Estate and Sampas, who has generously granted permission for the first presentation of “Beat Generation” in Lowell.
The university posthumously awarded Kerouac an honorary doctor of letters degree in 2007. That same year, the university and Lowell National Historical Park hosted an award-winning exhibit of the “On The Road” scroll – Kerouac’s 120-foot-long original version of the manuscript – in honor of the 50th anniversary of the novel’s publication. The exhibit drew more than 25,000 people to Lowell.
“It is very exciting for UMass Lowell to be part of the world premiere of Jack Kerouac’s only full-length play,” said UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan. “As Kerouac’s artistic influence on this city, his hometown, is still so great, it is important that this work be presented in Lowell first. UMass Lowell is proud to partner with Merrimack Repertory Theatre to bring this unique literary experience to our students and the community.”
Ticket and casting information for this first-ever staging of “Beat Generation” will be announced at a later date. For more on the production and the Kerouac Literary Festival, visit www.uml.edu/kerouacplay. The website will be updated regularly with details on both in the coming months.
About Jack Kerouac
Born Jean-Louis Kerouac in 1922, Kerouac is Lowell’s most famous native son. He was a football star at Lowell High School and was awarded a scholarship to Columbia University. However, Kerouac was unhappy in college and after his father lost his printing business, he dropped out of school. During World War II, he joined the Merchant Marine and became friends with Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. Kerouac wrote his first novel, “The Town and the City,” about his struggle to balance the expectations of his family with his unconventional life, which was published in 1950 with Ginsberg’s help. Kerouac took several cross-country trips with Cassady during this time, which became the basis for his most famous work, “On The Road.” The manuscript – presented to his editor on a single, unbroken roll of paper, the scroll that was later exhibited in Lowell – was rejected and six years would pass before it was published in 1957. In the years in between, Kerouac followed Ginsberg and Cassady to San Francisco and the term “Beat Generation,” which Kerouac coined, gained popularity. When Kerouac finally broke through with the release of “On The Road,” he was faced with challenges presented by the fame that followed, trying to live up to the image portrayed in his novels and facing criticism from the literary establishment for being part of what was considered a fad. He would go on to publish additional novels, many of which used settings based on Lowell – including “Doctor Sax,” “The Subterraneans,” “The Dharma Bums” and his final great work, “Big Sur.” He settled in Florida with his wife, Stella Sampas, and his mother, where he died in 1969 at age 47. He was buried in Lowell.
Even after his death, Kerouac’s popularity continues. “On The Road” has remained widely read and Kerouac was named one of the most important figures of the 20th century by LIFE Magazine and the Times of London. In recent years, interest in Kerouac has grown with the publication of his letters, poetry, spiritual writings, early novels and more from his remarkable literary archive. He has been cited as an influence by countless writers and musicians, including The Doors.
About the producers
Founded in 1979 by a group of committed civic leaders, Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s mission is “to advance the cause of human understanding by creating theatrical productions at the highest level of artistic excellence and making them affordable to the broadest possible community.” Merrimack Rep’s unique artistic vision is shaped by a passion for excellence and a profound commitment to its community. It strives to enhance the community’s quality of life while contributing to its economic strength, measuring success by the depth of the company’s artistic and social contribution to the region.
A member of the League of Resident Theatres (LORT), MRT has received hundreds of awards and accolades, including recognition in American Theatre Magazine, The Boston Globe, Boston Magazine and The New York Times for artistic excellence and its contribution to the community. MRT’s history comprises more than 210 productions including 16 world premieres and 34 regional premieres, contributing significantly to the canon of the American theater and bringing new plays to audiences throughout New England. Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s 2011-2012 season is sponsored by Lowell Bank. Merrimack Repertory Theatre is funded in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. For details on MRT’s season information, show times, tickets, directions or to request a brochure, visit www.merrimackrep.org or call 978-654-4MRT (4678).
UMass Lowell is a comprehensive, national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its 15,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in engineering, education, fine arts, health and environment, humanities, liberal arts, management, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers. www.uml.edu