Merrimack Repertory Theatre and the University of Massachusetts Lowell announced today – Jack Kerouac’s 90th birthday – 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 counter culture 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,” said Todd Tietchen, a UMass Lowell English professor and expert on Beat Generation writers.
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, the entire script of ‘Beat Generation’ will be first spoken aloud on the stage inLowell, 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.”