Playcrafters Barn Theatre’s first production in 15 months, the new drama “Princeton’s Rage,” is deeply personal for both its Quad-Cities playwright and director.

Playcrafters Director, Playwright Closely Identify With Bullying in New Play

Adrienne Jane Evans and Gary Talsky (who plays the former bully) in “Princeton’s Rage.”

In the Don Faust play (rated R for language and adult content), Princeton Yale left his hometown of Chicago over 30 years ago, turning his back on an abusive past at the hands of his high school classmates and never looking back. But through a series of happenstances, Princeton’s past comes to pay him a visit, in the form of one of his former tormentors, Reece “Rage” Johnson, and more than just talk about “the good old days” will be revealed. Will their lives ever be the same?

Though a work of fiction, Faust (a 27-year Playcrafters acting veteran), based the story on growing up bullied in Chicago.

“As a victim of bullying myself, I can attest to the fact that the lingering effects don’t end once diploma is in hand,” the 57-year-old Davenporter, who works as a claims adjustor for Sentry Insurance, wrote for the program. “Mine was worse in grade school and junior high than high school, but I digress. Like Princeton, I left my home in Norwood Park, Chicago, as soon as I could, and never looked back.

Playcrafters Director, Playwright Closely Identify With Bullying in New Play

“Princeton’s Rage” will be presented on June 4-6 and June 11-13.

“Too many bad memories, and yet, in spite of the nearly three hours distance and several decades between me and my childhood, I can never quite escape its grip on me,” Faust wrote. “Walking down the street, I see a group of kids approaching me, and my kid brains immediately goes back to wondering what they might do to me. Someone’s angry tone sends me into shutdown mode, thinking it’s yet another prelude to getting hit or shoved once again.

“Occasionally, I still see my former tormentors in my dreams (or, more accurately, nightmares),” he said. “They’re chasing me and finding me no matter where I go, no matter where I hide. Like many trauma survivors, the effect from bullying are alive and well just beneath this 57-year-old’s otherwise calm exterior.

“And while I in no way condone mass shootings or any other acts of violence by those who’ve been victimized themselves, I understand why some people are pushed over the edge,” Faust wrote.

His worst period of getting bullied and beat up was in 6th grade, in Chicago Public Schools, when one teacher had no control over her class, he recalled in a Monday interview. Faust transferred in seventh grade to a private school, “thinking that, oh, this is a religious school, they won’t bully me here,” he said.

Playcrafters Director, Playwright Closely Identify With Bullying in New Play

Don Faust is a 57-year-old Chicago native who’s done shows at Playcrafters since 1994.

“That’s actually pretty funny because it’s not true at all,” he said. “I did start to get some friends in junior high and then high school especially. So I, while I was still being bullied, at least I had some people to kind of lean on. it was pretty rough.”

The title of the play has a double meaning – since “Rage” is the nickname of Princeton’s bully, a star football player who also had a tough childhood. Faust said that “hurt people hurt people.”

“His father was the police commissioner,” he said of that character. “So he pretty much got away with murder but at home, life was a lot. There was definitely, Rage has got a lot of baggage himself from birth up with his Dad and stuff. And so he’s really trying to get his life back in order, but there’s a lot of secrets that that he’s never told his family and those things kind of come out during the show and as the show goes on, you find out more.”

It was a pretty cathartic experience to write the play, Faust said.

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“I remembered things as I was writing it, they’re still fresh in my mind,” he said. “And there were times when I was brought to tears sitting in front of my computer, because this pain that I think anybody who’s had trauma, especially in their childhood — whether it’s bullying, or abuse at home, or sexual or whatever — whatever the abuse might be, there’s always going to be a part of that underneath the surface.

“Whether you’re successful or not successful or super strong on the outside or whatever, there’s always going to be that part and I think when I’ve been doing this show, in writing this show and being around the characters — there have been times when I’ve gotten choked up, and even at the auditions, I got choked up because thinking back to that little kid who was bullied, and who was just made to feel less than,” Faust said. “I don’t think it’s something to necessarily avoid,” he noted. “In fact, I think the more you embrace it and bring it out and let it come out, I think it can be also extremely healing and that’s what I found, doing this whole process is just a really huge lesson for me of letting go, letting somebody else manage this.”

Theater as a calling

“I feel a certain calling to do theater,” said Faust, who did his first Playcrafters show in 1994, and has also performed with Music Guild, Richmond Hill, New Ground and the former District Theatre.

“I did my first show in eighth grade. I told my dad that night, I want to be an actor when I grow up,” he said. “I didn’t do a lot between then

Playcrafters Director, Playwright Closely Identify With Bullying in New Play

Faust, right, with Pamela Crouch (left) and Judy Luster in the 2010 Playcrafters production of “The O’Conner Girls.”

and I did a little bit in college and then I started up again real heavily in ’94 with a group that’s no longer around called Unsafe Ensemble that did a lot of original stuff.”

This isn’t Faust’s first original play. One he wrote and directed, “Dad and Me,” was done five years ago at his church, Metropolitan Community Church of the Quad Cities in Davenport. He’s very grateful Madison Duling is directing “Princeton’s Rage.”

“Directing is not my expertise and she’s done more with this show than anybody that I’ve ever had,” Faust said. “I mean this is the biggest production of any show that I’ve written, with the lights, the backstage crew, the everything. This is by far the biggest production. So I’m really, really excited and really nervous, ‘cause this is a big deal for me.”

“Princeton’s Rage” is a story he’s worked on for years, and it was originally slated for last year’s Barn Owl series (among four original plays) in June 2020. But, like everything else in 2020, it was postponed until this year.

“I realize this show has a lot working against it. For one thing, it’s an unknown show by a relatively unknown playwright,” Faust said.

“It’s also a heavy-duty drama and may be triggering for younger and more sensitive viewers,” he said. “We’re also coming off a year-long lockdown, and many folks are still not comfortable going out, let alone being in public.”

Playcrafters will have a 60-percent maximum seating capacity, with no one in front rows, and six feet distance between groups of

Playcrafters Director, Playwright Closely Identify With Bullying in New Play

Adrienne Jane Evans and Eric Teeter in “Princeton’s Rage.”

ticketholders.

It’s been amazing seeing the actors say his words, Faust said.

“I’m really looking forward to the finished product because I haven’t seen it now for a little while,” he said. “I’ll probably take this week off and I’m going to go back opening night just to see what they’ve done with it. They’ve done a lot of tech work with it, the lights, the sound. So I’m really kind of excited about what they’re what they’re up to.

“It’s been definitely cathartic for me,” Faust said. He’s also deeply missed doing theater for so long.

“I still haven’t done a role. The last show I did was ‘Boxcar Children’ at Playcrafters, which was a year ago February,” he said. “It was right after that, then everything shut down. And so I still haven’t been on stage now for that’ll be almost a year and half. It’s been really tough, but just being in the theater space itself, like for auditions. And even before that, when I was discussing the show with Maddie, it just felt so great.”

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“I’m back at my theater home, you know, and missing my theater friends,” Faust said. “Missing just the whole theater environment is just for me — it is my home. It’s my home away from home and just really, really miss it. And so, this is not being on stage but it’s the next best thing.

Playcrafters Director, Playwright Closely Identify With Bullying in New Play

Eric Teeter, left, Adrienne Jane Evans, and Gary Talsky in “Princeton’s Rage.”

And for me it’s really been a real treat.”

“I really hope we get people to show up for this thing and I hope people take away something,” he said. “No matter what side of the bullying fence you’re on and for most people, it’s probably both because, you know, hurt people hurt people.

“And that’s not to justify. That’s not to say that it’s okay,” Faust said. “But when you’re hurting, you’re going to do things, you’re not going to be the nice person that you would be if you weren’t. I really hope people take away something from it, whether it’s — I was kind of a jerk in school or, it just happened to me too.”

“I just hope it makes people think, and I’m not looking to change the world necessarily,” he said. “I think the, the takeaway is this stuff never really leaves you. And I do believe that 100 percent, that it’s there, whether you acknowledge it or not.”

“I hope you enjoy the hard work these incredibly talented actors, director, and staff have put into bringing this show to life,” Faust wrote for the program. “And if you relate to being on either side of the bullying fence, or both, my hope is that you might also share your experiences in a way that is both healing and affirming to your inner wounded child. Everyone’s story is as unique as their fingerprints, but I believe that while the verses may be different, it’s still the same song. And by sharing, you let others know the one thing we all need to hear the most: We’re not alone.”

Director can relate to issues

Maddie Duling, a 23-year-old Alleman High alum (whose father Bruce is Playcrafters board president), also finds emotional catharsis in the play.

She was personally bullied at the Catholic high school in Rock Island and has worked hard to forgive her thoughtless tormentors.

“I try to reflect on a time that someone has hurt me or I could hurt someone else and just taking a moment to forgive them and move on,” Duling said Monday. “I really think that’s the takeaway. The show is that Princeton’s high school past has been haunting him his whole life and causing him issues.”

Playcrafters Director, Playwright Closely Identify With Bullying in New Play

Madison Duling is a 23-year-old Alleman alum and director of “Princeton’s Rage.”

“I also think another big part is people knowing that if they were bullied in high school or something like that, that it wasn’t their fault,” she said.

“It’s been a healing process for me in that way,” Duling said of directing the play. “A lot of people that have hurt me in the past, I feel like I’ve forgiven them and moved on because of what I’ve learned from this show. And also because of the discussions that we’ve had with the cast as well, has helped me grow as a person as well.”

She had won a Miss Blackhawk Valley Outstanding Teen competition, and was constantly harassed (especially her senior year), including kids sneering that she didn’t deserve the recognition, threatening to kill her dog and slash her tires, she said. “Then when I left school, just getting text messages as well, that was the worst part — was the awful things they sent,” Duling said. The school said she should consider transferring to Rocky.

“They weren’t going to do anything about it. They just suggested I go somewhere else to avoid the problem,” she recalled, noting the abuse was devastating to her self-esteem. Duling loves doing theater as an escape and a way to build her self-confidence back up.

“I still struggle with like being taunted by those voices in my head telling me I’m not good enough or that I can’t succeed,” she said. “And a lot of that comes from the trauma that I underwent in high school and middle school and then even on in life. But I just have to keep reminding myself that none of the stuff that’s ever happened to me was my fault and I just have to accept it happened and just grow and move on from it.” It was very hard for Duling to wait a year to stage “Princeton’s Rage.”

Playcrafters Director, Playwright Closely Identify With Bullying in New Play

Maddie Duling with her father Bruce at Playcrafters, when she was in the 2019 production of “Avenue Q.”

“Especially June of last year, where it didn’t really feel that things were going to get better anytime soon, all I wanted to do was perform because that’s what always makes me feel better and there was no option to do that,” she said. “So I think waiting the year to put on ‘Princeton’s Rage’ kind of helps me, making it the best show that it can be, because we waited a year and it’s the first show that’s opening up the Barn. So we want to make sure that it’s going to be a powerful one. It’s going to be one that gets people coming in for the rest of the season to continue supporting Playcrafters as well.”

Duling also supports the Barn Theatre giving exposure to new work from local writers, like Alex Richardson, whose “Their Town” was mounted in March 2020.

“There’s not really another outlet for them to display their works of art,” she said. “I think this is a great way that the community can see that we do have quite a few playwrights in the area. I didn’t know that we had that many local playwrights. I think it’s really great. We do use all local actors and I’m big in supporting the community and trying to find local businesses that we could partner with. So I think local playwrights are another great way that we can get the community involved.”

Teetering between acting and directing

Eric Teeter (a 43-year-old sales rep for Alfa Romeo-Fiat of Davenport) plays the title character in “Princeton’s Rage,” and has directed and acted in Playcrafters productions since 2018. The last show he was part of was November 2019, when he directed “Prescription: Murder” on the Moline stage, and the last he acted in was in the ensemble of “Assassins” in August 2019 at Moline’s Black Box Theatre.

He started in “Clybourne Park” at Playcrafters, and has been on stage at Iowa City Community Theatre, Theatre Cedar Rapids, RHCR

Playcrafters Director, Playwright Closely Identify With Bullying in New Play

Eric Teeter (upper left) hosting a recent Zoom episode of Talking Theatre.

Theatre in Cedar Rapids, City Circle in Coralville, and more. Teeter also been stage manager, sound designer, assistant director, director, and just about everything else behind the scenes.

“I love doing new work, things that haven’t been seen before because nobody in the audience knows the work,” he said Sunday. “So they don’t know if you screw up when you’re on stage. You create the character and everything that comes after is held up to that standard.”

He was originally part of a first read-through at Faust’s house and Teeter was interested in directing at first. “It turned out for the best. I’m really happy to be able to play Princeton,” he said.

Teeter said he’s better suited to direct dramas and act in comedic roles, even though Princeton is a pretty tough dramatic part.

“I don’t feel like I can pull the comedy out of actors as well as I can the drama,” he said of working as a director. For “Princeton’s Rage,” Teeter’s biggest satisfaction is “telling the story and letting the audience kind of decide if it was best in the end. Because I don’t think the script answers any questions — it presents more of them. It asks the audience if they are the bully, or if they were the bullied and how they’ve dealt with it during the course of their life.”

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In the story, Princeton was bullied in high school, and years later, the daughter of his bully moved to California and ends up working with him and introduces him to his bully.

“So, it brings back all of these memories which are shown throughout the play, flashback scenes behind a scrim,” Teeter said. The play presents the viewpoint of both the bully and the bullied. “The perception makes all the difference,” he said.

Faust’s experience at Playcrafters and having him at rehearsals have been big benefits, Teeter said.

“Because when we when we come up to an issue with a character or the way something’s worded in rehearsal, we don’t have to say, oh we’ll

Playcrafters Director, Playwright Closely Identify With Bullying in New Play

Playcrafters Barn Theatre is at 4950 35th Ave., Moline.

just change it and it’ll be fine without asking the playwright,” Teeter said. “We can ask them, right? Okay, based on how you wrote this character, how can we change it to be better?”

He admires Playcrafters for staging new works in the Barn Owl Series.

“Focusing on local playwrights this time around, I think that that gives a big boost and a big outlet out for playwrights to get their work produced to get it on stage and see it how it would play out to an audience instead of just in their head,” Teeter said.

Since last August, he’s also coordinated, cast, and conducted virtual readings of 20 plays on Zoom, to give actors another outlet during the pandemic and to gauge interest in seeing them produced on area stages.

“I like to hear things out loud and see if it’s a good idea to have them on stage. So I always had a discussion after the reading and got feedback from the actors,” he said. One of Teeter’s favorites was “Scrooge Macbeth,” a comedic collision of Shakespeare and Christmas. Teeter also has hosted (with Chelsea Ward) a weekly Zoom series called “Talking Theatre,” dedicated to exploring the lives beyond the curtain of theatre artists in eastern Iowa. Usually done on Sundays, it’s on hiatus until after “Princeton’s Rage.” While the virtual gatherings have kept him connected to theater, it’s not the same as the live experience, with other actors and an audience in person.

“I didn’t realize how much I missed it until the first time we were back on stage with some set pieces thrown in and a couple of props,” Teeter said. “And I’m like, hey, this feels really good. Like not having soda for six months and then tasting it again and it’s so sweet.”

The new play is supported by Quad City Arts, through the Arts Dollars re-granting program, supported by the Illinois Arts Council Agency and the Hubbell-Waterman Foundation.

Performances will be 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, June 4-5 and 11-12, and 3 p.m. Sundays, June 6 and 13. Playcrafters tickets are $12 for the general public, and $10 for military and seniors (62+), available at playcrafters.com, or by calling 309-762-0330.

Playcrafters Director, Playwright Closely Identify With Bullying in New Play
Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.
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Playcrafters Director, Playwright Closely Identify With Bullying in New Play

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