“No one else had ever done it, so there were hundreds of plays written by Carolina students who wrote about their early histories, their early lives back home on the farm. The folk plays became widely known all over the nation.”
Emily Jack, digital projects and outreach librarian at Wilson, said the folk play was Koch’s vision for telling the stories of the people, which was a departure from the romantic and sentimental dramatic approach at the time.
“He emphasized that it’s the interaction between the writing that the playwright does, the acting that the actors do and the direction of the director,” Jack said. “It takes all three of those elements to make a play and that’s why he called it playmaking rather than playwriting.”
Numerous well-known playwrights came out of the group, including Paul Green, Thomas Wolfe and Betty Smith, as well as actor Andy Griffith. The exhibit highlights its notable alumni with original photos, diaries and costumes.
Linda Jacobson, keeper of the North Carolina Collection Gallery at Wilson, said most of the artifacts featured in the exhibit came from either the North Carolina Collection or the Southern Historical Collection, and some items were donated by family of Playmakers members. The exhibit took several months to put together.
“It was pretty amazing because this was a student group,” Jacobson said. “They continued to do folk plays, but they did all different types of things, like operas and comedies.”
Robert Long, a 1973 UNC alumnus of the dramatic art program, said his family is embedded in the history of the Playmakers because his parents met as Carolina Playmakers in the 1940s.
Long said UNC was fortunate to have Professor Koch found the Carolina Playmakers.
“I think what’s really important is for people to realize how revolutionary this was a 100 years ago and that the leadership of the University was at the very beginning of the whole educational theater movement in America,” he said. “How it happened at Chapel Hill is a big part of the story.”