Aug. 30, 2006
- Photo Gallery
- Read about Iowa’s 2006 recruiting class
- Follow the renovation of Kinnick Stadium
- Kinnick: The play at Hancher
- The Schedule: 2006 and beyond
- Cruise with Kirk
Editor’s Note: The following was written by Eric Clark and first appeared in Aug. 27 editions of The Gazette.<>
Nile Kinnick was a World War II serviceman, a Heisman Trophy winner and one of the most celebrated football players in University of Iowa history.
Apparently, he was one heck of a swing dancer, too.
As portrayed by Jackson Doran in “Kinnick,” a play about the gridiron hero’s short life, Kinnick has plenty of opportunities to jump, jive and wail, with swing dancing, period music and radio jingles playing a prominent role in the plot.
“We’re trying to make it a fun play,” says director and playwright Bruce Wheaton of his potentially weighty subject matter (Kinnick died at age 24 during a World War II training mission). “It’s pretty hard to succeed with apiece of theater if all you’re doing is trying to educate your audience.”
No matter how much fun Wheaton is able to inject into “Kinnick,” audience members surely will leave the play knowing more about the man behind the myth than they ever have before. Not a difficult task, since most people these days are more familiar with Kinnick as a football stadium than as an actual person.
“Kinnick,” collaboration between the UI Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, Riverside Theatre and Hancher Auditorium, will add to the festivities surrounding the Hawkeye football team’s season opener Saturday against the University of Montana. The game marks the completion of Kinnick Stadium’s two-year, $89 million renovation, and a 14-foot-tall statue of Nile Kinnick will be unveiled the day before the game.
(Playwright and director) Wheaton decided the narrative arc for “Kinnick” would be propelled by a fictional radio broadcast from after Kinnick’s death that recounted the events of his life between 1939 and 1943. In 1939, Kinnick became a national hero following his eloquent Heisman Trophy acceptance speech. He died in 1943 in an airplane crash off the coast of Venezuela while serving in the Naval Air Corp Reserve.
The play is the perfect complement to a historic weekend on campus, says Rick Klatt, UI associate athletic director of external affairs.
“People need to understand why Kinnick’s name is on the side of our stadium,” Klatt says. “he’s more than just a Heisman Trophy winner. If his life had not been cut short, he could have been president of our country. He was that far our there as a leader.”
The task of bringing Kinnick’s life to the stage was assigned to Wheaton, a theatrical jack-of-all-trades from Iowa City and a longtime Hawkeye football fan. Riverside co-artistic director Ron Clark says Wheaton was his first choice to direct the play.
“Bruce is one of our very best playwrights and historically he’s our go-to guy,” Clark says. “He has a real deep sense of Iowa.”
Despite the magnitude of the project, Wheaton, 59, says he approached “Kinnick” the same way he would any other play. He thought things over for a few days after Clark asked him to join the production and then reported back with a rough treatment for the play.
Wheaton decided the narrative arc for “Kinnick” would be propelled by a fictional radio broadcast from after Kinnick’s death that recounted the events of his life between 1939 and 1943. In 1939, Kinnick became a national hero following his eloquent Heisman Trophy acceptance speech. He died in 1943 in an airplane crash off the coast of Venezuela while serving in the Naval Air Corp Reserve.
In addition to shedding light on Kinnick’s life, Wheaton says he also wanted to capture the essence of the time period.
“I was preoccupied with the question of what it was about American culture at the time that people were looking to adopt a hero,” Wheaton says.
Some portions of Wheaton’s script are taken directly from Kinnick’s letters or diary entries. Other parts of the play are fact-based but dramatized for theater.
“I know for a fact Nile was at the Tiffin Road House on a certain date,” Wheaton says. “But I have no idea what he said or what happened there, so I tried to come up with something plausible.”
Doran, who plays Kinnick, says it is a great honor to portray such a storied figure. The 25-year old Chicago resident grew up in Cedar Rapids and graduated from the UI in 2004, so his allegiance to the Hawkeyes runs deep.
Doran says he studied radio interviews and film reels of Kinnick to prepare for the role. Although he could have tried to exactly mimic Kinnick’s persona, he decided against it; still, there’s plenty of Kinnick in Doran.
“I’m taking just a little bit of dramatic license,” Doran says.
Credit the idea for a play about Kinnick to Bob Goodfellow, president of Goodfellow Printing Co. in Iowa City. Goodfellow has friends in the town’s arts community and its athletics community, which allowed him to serve as a link between the seemingly separate groups.
“There’s no shortage of iconic figures in sports, but how many of them are legitimately heroic?” Goodfellow says. “I wanted to show all the kids out there someone who was truly heroic.”