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IU Theatre’s 'The Exonerated' tells true stories of innocent people put on death row

Nov. 16, 2016

What is it like to be innocent and on death row?

IU Theatre’s production of “The Exonerated” will offer a look into the true stories of six people who were wrongly accused of murder and sentenced to death.

The Exonerated

IU Theatre will be showcasing the true stories of six wrongly accused prisoners in the upcoming performance of "The Exonerated." | PHOTO COURTESY OF IU THEATRE

The play interweaves the six stories. Nearly every word in the script comes from legal documents, court transcripts, letters that are a part of the public record or from interviews with those who were wrongly accused and later exonerated. 

IU faculty and staff using a valid IU email address can enter to win two tickets to the opening performance of "The Exonerated," a $50 value, at the Wells-Metz Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2. The contest opens Nov. 16 and closes at 4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 21, 2016.

“This play is unusual in that it's taken from actual documents and statements from real people,” said Liam Castellan, director and second-year MFA student. “It's also somewhat unusual in its structure. Rather than telling one story straight through, this play is a weave of six stories, all moving forward in time but never interacting with each other directly. We jump from one exoneree to another and back, hearing bits of their stories woven together to come to a fuller understanding of their experiences.”

For Castellan, sharing the stories of these six wrongly accused prisoners is a chance to share a lesser-known perspective.

“Theater is a way to learn more about each other as human beings and experience stories about people we don't regularly interact with,” Castellan said. “One population most of us have no connection to is death row inmates and especially those exonerated from death row. But their struggles are painful, powerful and quite literally life and death.”   

“The Exonerated” will also give those who attend a chance to take part in an ongoing national debate. 

“The past few years have opened up a long-overdue national conversation about how our justice system works and how it regularly fails certain communities,” Castellan said. "Although ‘The Exonerated’ was written more than 15 years ago, it is still incredibly relevant to that conversation. I think the fact that it's six true stories gives it an added impact, because if it was fiction -- even if based on truth -- it could be more easily dismissed as unbelievable.” 

To keep the conversation going, the IU Theatre has organized a panel discussion that will take place on opening night of the play. It will feature “The Exonerated” playwrights Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen, as well as Fran Watson, clinical professor of law at IUPUI who teaches in the Wrongful Conviction Clinic in the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.

"Knowing that the play is true may inspire questions in some of our audience, as this is an aspect of our criminal justice system that average Americans don't think about very often,” said Drew Bratton, managing director for the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance. “The panels are meant to reward that curiosity with a deeper level of engagement with some of the issues and themes that surround the play."

“The Exonerated” will be performed at the Wells-Metz Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2, 3, 6, 7, 8 and 9, and at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10.

The opportunity for Liam Castellan to direct "The Exonerated" aligns with priorities outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a commitment to student success.

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