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[Audio] "Mark Twain Remembers" a Fundraiser for Theatre in Murray, Nov. 30

Matt Markgraf, WKMS

Bob Valentine, Senior Lecturer in Murray State's Department of Journalism and Mass Communications, has been performing Mark Twain for 40 years, but introduces a fresh script with an updated voice and new hair to the MSU Johnson Theatre stage on November 30, as part of a joint Town & Gown fundraiser for MSU Theatre and Playhouse in the Park. He stops by Sounds Good with Mark Welch, Director of Community Relations and Alumni Affairs, to talk about the performance.

Murray State's Town & Gown wanted to celebrate the 180th birthday of Mark Twain on November 30 with a fundraiser performance for theatre in Murray: with proceeds split evenly between the MSU Department of Theatre and Dance and the community theatre Playhouse in the Park.

Bob Valentine says he recently finished revising the script he's been using since 1975. One of the earliest performances of this script was 40 years ago in the same theatre. He says while the original script was developed to teach people about Twain's biography, the new version is much more theatrical. Rather than telling his life story in a chronological order, it presents these elements in the same way Twain himself would have done so: as they occurred to him.

His new hair comes from work by Murray State alumna Lauren Cecil, now working in Chicago. On Twain's voice, Valentine says he'd been using a voice based on written reports, but he long felt there was something missing in that. He discovered a recording not of Twain, but of an actor who was a neighbor of Twain that had a reputation of being good at imitating him. If the recording is accurate, he says, Twain's voice was deeper and less feeble with age.

Twain was imprinted by Charles Dickens' live performance of readings. Dickens was famous for being florid in his use of vocal techniques, pyrotechnics, graphic in his gestures and highly energetic. While Twain had his own style, it was theatrical as well and Twain was more inclined to act things out.

While working on the re-write, another MSU alum, Don Maley, asked Valentine if he could use it for a performance of Twain in Florida. Valentine send him the script and went to the production, learning more about Twain in the process - getting everything out of the words using voice and body in addition to the pause. (Valentine says he long resisted seeing other performances by Twain, notably Hal Holbrook, to resist the urge to imitate other interpretations).

Mark Welch says this performance is the perfect microcosm of what they're trying to achieve with Town & Gown. With two theatrical companies in the community, he wanted to hold a fundraiser to support both efforts.

Tickets are $15 at the door and $5 for students. Cash and check only. Johnson Theatre is located in the Price Doyle Fine Arts Building on the Murray State Campus. The performance is at 7:30 p.m. on November 30.

More about this performance

Tracy started working for WKMS in 1994 while attending Murray State University. After receiving his Bachelors and Masters degrees from MSU he was hired as Operations/Web/Sports Director in 2000. Tracy hosted All Things Considered from 2004-2012 and has served as host/producer of several music shows including Cafe Jazz, and Jazz Horizons. In 2001, Tracy revived Beyond The Edge, a legacy alternative music program that had been on hiatus for several years. Tracy was named Program Director in 2011 and created the midday music and conversation program Sounds Good in 2012 which he hosts Monday-Thursday. Tracy lives in Murray with his wife, son and daughter.
Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
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