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Notre Dame alumni produce one-man show highlighting the life of Fr. Sorin

| Wednesday, August 30, 2017

In 1842, 28-year old Fr. Edward Sorin arrived in Indiana with his Holy Cross brothers — none of whom spoke a word of English — and founded Notre Dame.

175 years later, four University graduates — director Patrick Vassel (’07), playwright Christina Telesca Gorman (’91), projection designer Ryan Belock (’11) and actor Matthew Goodrich (’09) —  banded together with the development office to create a masterpiece that would tell the story of Notre Dame through Sorin’s story.

At 6:42 p.m. Wednesday, the first performance of the one man play “Sorin: A Notre Dame Story” will open in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

“For as much lore and history and tradition as we have at Notre Dame, there’s a lot about our founder that people just don’t know,” Vassel, who is also currently involved in “Hamilton,” said.

Goodrich, who will take on the role of the University patriarch, said he agrees.

“I don’t think I knew anything about Sorin [when I was a student] other than that there was a dorm named after him, and that if I wasn’t in Zahm I probably wanted to be in Sorin — but Zahm was better,” Goodrich said.  “Everyone thinks of him as the old patriarch that we see on the statue on God Quad, but he was a young man when he got here and had tenacity and fire and vision. And he carried that through his life.”

From the beginning stages of development for the play, those involved thought a one-man show would best capture the essence of the Notre Dame story as well as give people the opportunity to “spend an evening with Fr. Sorin,” Vassel said.

“Some of the first conversations we had was, ‘a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton sounds like a crazy idea. A one-man play about Fr. Sorin also sounds like a crazy idea,’” Vassel said. “Both, I think, turned out to be quite smart and effective.”

Despite there being only one actor in the show, it is a full scale production, Goodrich said. The story follows Sorin’s life from his childhood in France to his eventual death.

“The concept of the show is that he’s speaking to God the entire time,” Goodrich said. “It’s one long prayer.”

To prepare to take on the role, Goodrich read Marvin O’Connell’s lengthy biography of Sorin, as well as Sorin’s first-hand chronicles. Goodrich said he also spent a lot of time with the priests and brothers of Holy Cross on campus to learn about the community that Sorin spent most of his life in.

“It was important to me to understand what their conception of Fr. Sorin was because they’re closest to him,” Goodrich said. “They actually do know the history and the lore. I wanted to get what they all thought and how they perceived Sorin in their minds so that I could harness that and use it in my portrayal.”

Gorman — who got her start in theater as a stage manager during her undergraduate years at Notre Dame — also utilized O’Connell’s biography, painstakingly searched archives with the help of experts from the Hesburgh Library and pulled together all of the stories that people have told of the founder over the years to write the script. 

“I concentrated on the parts of Sorin’s life that led to the creation of Notre Dame,” she said. “It’s the story of Notre Dame as told by Fr. Sorin.”

Throughout the play, there will be three screens on stage showing many of the documents and photos Gorman found in her research in order to help audiences better envision Sorin’s journeys all over the world and see what he saw, Vassel said.

Belock arranged the visual elements digitally using QLab software.  He said he thinks of the projections as Goodrich’s scene partner.

“Projections are really useful to get in someone’s head on stage,” Belock said. “Not only are we showing the physical journey that Fr. Sorin took, we are showing the journey of his mind and his soul and his heart.”

Vassel said he believes Sorin’s story — that of an immigrant — is a prime example of the Notre Dame spirit of finding a way to do the seemingly impossible. He said he hopes everyone can walk away from the play moved, having learned something about the university that they didn’t know before.

“I hope the experience is of a fantastic night at the theater, a fantastic play,” Vassel said. “And for anyone — a student or alum or part of the Notre Dame community — to really have a better appreciation and understanding of the founder of the University and a better understanding of the real story of Notre Dame through the story of Fr. Sorin.”

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