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Kerouac Takes the Stage

Unearthed Play Gives ‘Slice-of-Life’ of the Beats

UMass Lowell Kerouac Beat Generation MRT
"Beat Generation" premieres at the MRT on Oct. 10, which is UMass Lowell Night at the theatre. Image courtesy of MRT.

By Julia Gavin

The only full-length play Jack Kerouac ever wrote will have its world premiere in the author’s hometown in what would have been his 90th birthday year. After sitting in a warehouse for nearly 50 years, “Beat Generation” will have its time in the limelight as a staged reading at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) in partnership with the University Oct. 10–14.

“The first way I describe the play is that it’s ‘very Kerouac,’ ” says Charles Towers, artistic director at MRT and director of the production. 
“It’s very autobiographical, about Kerouac — named Buck in the play — and characters based on his friends, including Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and others. It follows Buck and his friends through one day in New York City in October 1955, with each of the three acts taking place in a different location: a run-down apartment in the Bowery, the Jamaica, N.Y., race track and the living room of a suburban Long Island home.”

As the play focuses more on talk and character than plot, a staged reading seemed like the natural form for the production. Towers says the goal is to bring Kerouac’s words to life for the first time in his native city. The production, with actors in costume and scripts in hand, will be a change for many theatre-goers and actors alike.

“We rehearsed for four days, not the four weeks we usually rehearse a production and with no memorization,” says Towers. “So there is no time to do intricate character or scene work, and in a staged reading, you don’t expect it. This is more of a moment in literary history than a theatrical one.”

Even with the differences in format, Towers says the intent for the audience is the same as other productions: “to increase understanding of themselves and others” with an added touch of pride watching their own Kerouac take the stage for the first time.
Kerouac fans who attend select performances will have the opportunity to attend pre-show book signings and participate in post-show discussions with Kerouac contemporaries David Amram and Joyce Johnson, authors Anne Waldman and Marilene Phipps-Kettlewell and Beat literature scholars and UMass Lowell professors Michael Millner and Todd Tietchen. For a full listing of events and ticket information, visit the MRT website.

The play’s premiere is being presented as part of the Kerouac Literary Festival with the support and collaboration of UMass Lowell’s Jack and Stella Kerouac Center for the Public Humanities and Kerouac Literary Estate representative John Sampas. 

Additional University-related events for the festival include:

Tanya Donelly and Rick Moody
Oct. 10, 3:30 p.m., book signing at 3 p.m., room 222, O'Leary Library, UMass Lowell, 61 Wilder St., Lowell
Singer-songwriter Tanya Donelly (Throwing Muses, The Breeders, and Belly) will discuss songwriting, influence and inspiration with the novelist, short-story writer and essayist Rick Moody (Ice Storm, Garden State and music essay On Celestial Music: And Other Adventures in Listening). They will discuss their recent collaborations, which experiment with the line between music-making and prose-writing.

Poet Anne Waldman in Performance
Oct. 11, 3:30 p.m., book signing at 3 p.m., room 222, O'Leary Library, UMass Lowell, 61 Wilder St., Lowell
Anne Waldman is the author of more than 40 books of poetry and co-founder of the Jack Kerouac writing school at Naropa University in Colorado, where she is a distinguished professor of poetics. She is one of the most important writers of her generation. An activist-artist, she has been a strong voice for feminist, environmental and human rights causes.

David Kaiser: ‘How the Hippies Saved Physics’
Oct. 12, 2 p.m., book signing at 1:30 p.m., Alumni Hall, UMass Lowell, 1 University Ave., Lowell
David Kaiser is Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science and Department Head of MIT's Program in Science, Technology and Society, and senior lecturer in physics. He is the author of “How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival” (2011), which charts the early history of Bell's theorem and quantum entanglement, and the award-winning “Drawing Theories Apart: The Dispersion of Feynman Diagrams in Postwar Physics” (2005).

For a full listing of events, visit the UMass Lowell Center for Arts and Ideas website.