"What kept the audience enraptured by the performance is that Collins' illusion is complete. The suspension of disbelief is absolute. The actor disappeared, and we accepted that we were in the presence of Walt Whitman. There's magic for you."
Marsha Sloan - Programs & Development Manager, Camden Public Library
Stephen Collins is currently performing eight one-man shows. Met to rave reviews for over a decade, Mr. Collins' performances deliver not just the poetry and plays, but they bring poets and playwrights to life on the stage. The shows also convey an understanding of the impact and the reactions of the characters to their respective times, giving the audience not just a performance, but an experience.
Performances can be held in schools, libraries, community centers, senior centers, museums, and similar facilities. Past performances, to provide a small sample, have been held at the Boston Public Library, Greenwich Arts Council, Lenox Memorial High School, Massachusetts College, Regis College, Heritage Plantation of Sandwich, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and Framingham State College.
an Evening With Walt Whitman
(by Michael Z. Keamy)
Since the late 1990's, Stephen's performances have captured the attention of the press. It is not just the stunning resemblance to Walt Whitman himself, which many of the reviews notice, but the portrayal of the character and the essence that he brings within arm's reach to the audience that makes the poet come to life. It is not surprising that in some reviews, the writer switches Collins' name and Whitman's interchangeably. A true compliment to a performance well appreciated.
Unlaunch’d Voices, an Evening With Walt Whitman opens with the elderly Whitman on the evening of his seventieth birthday. The audience is a visitor in his room as he prepares for his birthday celebration. Whitman begins to reminisce and to question his success as a man and a poet. He tells us his work has proved to be "less than a failure...." He remembers a mystical experience he had in his thirty-seventh year that inspired him to write poetry.
During the telling, Whitman transforms into his young vibrant self and we begin to trace back along with him the experiences that led to the creation of Leaves Of Grass, his lifetime work. The first part of the performance explores Whitman's preoccupation with the self and his resolve to write with "free and brave thought..." We revel with him as he celebrates his body and himself and are confidants as he shares his struggle with his sexual self.
In the second part of the performance, Whitman's life is changed forever by the occurrence of the Civil War. It is here that he finds "... the most important work of my life..." nursing the wounded soldiers in the hospitals. Through poetry and readings of actual letters, we experience Whitman's movement from selfishness and selflessness and his growth into a mature artist who is at peace about "himself, God and death."
"From the moment "Walt" appeared, Collins had the audience in the palm of his hand."
Pat Elliot, Chair, Department of English and Writing, Regis College
Unlaunch'd Voices, an Evening With Walt Whitman, was conceived and performed by Stephen Collins, written and directed by Michael Keamy. The first performances were presented in January 1998 at the Hancock Church in Lexington, MA. Since then private performances have been booked at both High Schools and Colleges as well as Assisted Living Communities throughout Massachusetts.
Unlaunch'd Voices strives to capture what we interpret to be the most vital contributions of the man. This generation will never know precisely how Whitman walked, talked, thought, or the many subtle ways he expressed himself and lived. To avoid any misrepresentation, we chose to keep any broad historical fiction or needless theatrical conventions out of this play.
Instead we rely on poetry, which surely stands on its own, and on as much of Walt's actual words and dialogue as possible. A portion of the text was gathered from the priceless source, Walt Whitman In Camden, a six-volume collection of daily conversations with Whitman, written by his friend and neighbor, Horace Traubel.
These books contain records of daily visits with Whitman over a period of five years leading up to the poet's death. The volumes are filled with anecdotes, stories, and memories, as well as important historical data. Whitman's own prose works, including Specimen Days, were also a valuable source.
Of what value is Walt Whitman to us in contemporary America? This is a question we asked repeatedly during the creation of this piece. Certainly it is in Whitman's inestimable contribution to the modem form of poetry and in his creation of free verse. But more, his worth lies in his humanity, his determination to retain his individuality, his struggle with his sexual self, his joyfully inclusive view of life and his refreshing embrace or death.
Finally, we hope to leave you with a greater insight not just into the great man or the great poet, but with an appreciation of Walt Whitman as an eternally free spirit.
by Stephen Collins
Recording recently staged by Somerville Film Group:
Directing, acting, and all of the technical aspects must come together successfully to create a satisfactory whole and here they do. Thanks to Keamy’s sympathetic direction and Collins’ strongly created and engaging persona, the audience comes away from the one and one-half hour play interested in and affectionately disposed to Walt Whitman. Anyone interested in knowing more about this great figure from America’s past should enjoy an evening with "Unlaunch’d Voices..."
Laura Lewis - The Brattleboro Reformer
A serenely acted one-man show "Unlaunch'd Voices" starring Shakespearean actor Stephen Collins hosted by the indefatigable producer Wendy Bidstrup proved a meticulously mounted showcase.
George W. Hayden - The Observer
By the end of the play, the audience comes away feeling as if they know Whitman, feeling as if they have just had a conversation with the poet.
Rebecca Lamet - York County Coast Star
Letters of Recommendation
His acting was superb, and the writing, an honest weaving together of Whitman's poetry and recorded conversations, gives the audience an understanding of the development of Whitman's career and ideas from the earliest times to his 70s. Most poignant was the Civil War section where Whitman's humanity is tested and his ideas forged through suffering.
The program ends with Whitman's optimism shining through the darkest times and leaves the audience hopeful and energized. We thoroughly enjoyed this performance and highly recommend it to other colleges and universities seeking to enrich their cultural programs. Sincerely,
Pat Elliott, Chair, Department of English and Writing, Regis College
You successfully brought the human element to a great American poet whose writings are challenging for so many people. There is no better way to celebrate National Poetry Month and the individualist spirit of America. Thank You,
Ann Parsons, Director, Lawrence Library
In January of this year Stephen Collins presented his exciting play, Unlaunch'd Voices; an evening with Walt Whitman, at the Waltham Public Library. He performed to a full house and we could not accommodate all who wished to attend.
I have been scheduling the programs at the Waltham Public Library for many years and we often have theatrical performances and historical interpreters. I can say without reservation that Stephen Collins' presentation of Walt Whitman was one of the finest programs we have ever had. Sincerely,
Tamara Chernow, Assistant Director, Waltham Public Library
Collins seems to have penetrated Whitman's soul....What kept the audience enraptured by the performance is that Collins' illusion is complete. The suspension of disbelief is absolute. The actor disappeared, and we accepted that we were in the presence of Walt Whitman. There's magic for you.
Marsha Sloan, Programs & Development Manager, Camden Public Library, Camden, Maine
Also: Read a recommendation from The College of New Jersey, Department of English, Michael Robertson.
The Theater of the
1930s, 1940s, 1950s
The thirties through the fifties represent a great period of American Theatrical History. The influence of and reaction to the Great Depression is evident in the work of William Saroyan. The forties saw the talent of three great playwrights emerge who dominated the theater, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and Eugene O'Neil.
All three examine dysfunctional families and the American dream gone awry. In 1954, N. Richard Nash's play The Rainmaker opens at the Cort Theater in New York City. The character Starbuck charms audiences with his brand of con and hucksterism.
Collins performs monologues from these and other playwrights and may even sing a Cole Porter and George Gershwin tune to round off the evening.
They call it The Norton Anthology of English Literature and yet many of the writers included were born in Ireland. The commonality of course is the English language but there are vast cultural differences which will be explored in this performance. A great deal of Irish writing deals with the land, the past, the church, and the changing political landscape. Yeats, Joyce, Heaney, McCourt, and other prominent writers are represented in this dramatic offering.
An Evening of Frost
An Evening of Frost is a unique, interactive performance that begins with a short biographical introduction into the poet's life. Robert Frost is greatly misunderstood. Certain people, some academics and politicians included, have tried to pigeonhole him, however the man is far more complicated than the surface indicates. This is, after all, a man who voted for Eugene Debs, one of the best known Socialists of the United States, but was vehemently opposed to Franklin Roosevelt and "The New Deal". It is this man that is seen in his poems that are often dialectic between chaos and order.
As part of the performance, an open discussion of the following poems will include:
"A Tuft of Flowers"
"After Apple Picking"
"Acquainted with the Night"
Stephen is hoping that people will come having read these poems, willing to discuss them.
The performance closes with a dramatic reading of Frost's masterful use of blank verse in the hauntingly memorable "The Death of the Hired Man".
Who had more effect on the English language than William Shakespeare? He created over 1700 common words that before him were either used in a new manner or didn't exist at all. He did this by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, or just invented entirely new words from scratch.
Let actor Stephen Collins make Shakespeare's words come alive for your audience. From the evil machinations of Richard III, to the philosophical bantering of Falstaff, to the brilliant oratory of Brutus and Antony, Stephen brings the Bard's words to life. Shakespeare's tragedies, comedies, histories, and Sonnets are all represented in this exciting show.
A further examination, dramatically, of the Bard's famous work. This time Stephen will perform as King Lear, Edmund, Iago, Prospero, Bottom and others. Nothing from Shake-Scene I is repeated here.
A Search for Justice
This performance piece will examine issues of social, political and religious justice. What is Justice? Can it be defined, or is it just and abstract concept? What is Truth? How do leaders both political and religious use language to motivate people? Is violent action ever justified when all else fails? Is there such a thing as a just as opposed to unjust war?
In this piece you will hear the words of the Abolitionist Editor William Lloyd Garrison. John Brown will tell you why he resorted to violence. Lincoln will deliver his oration at Gettysburg, the words that remade America. Thomas Hardy and other writers will comment on war and religion in A Search for Justice.
Socrates, or The Gadfly
Socrates, the Father of Philosophy, was born in Athens in 469 BC and died after drinking the hemlock in 399 BC. He was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens and of impiety. In this adaptation of Plato's Apology he defends himself against such charges.