It all began with a play written by a talented, creative Oregon woman who had an interest in the story of escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Her research on the influential speaker and writer led her to the little-known but important story of firebrand Theodore Weld and the Lane Rebels of Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio.
"I wrote a libretto for an opera in 1962, and it was such fun," said Earlene Hawley. "So, of course I was trying to repeat that pleasure."
The opera was Jeremiah and the New York Times called it, "One of the most effective operas that has yet been composed in the United States." The New York Herald Tribune said it was, "One of the best contemporary works of its genre."
Encouraged by the positive reviews for Jeremiah, Earlene focused her attention on a new project. Her play Sons & Daughters of Thunder was completed after several years of intense research, writing, and editing assistance from writer Curtis Heeter. The play had its world premiere at the New Theatre in Portland, Oregon where it was well received by audiences and reviewers alike.
"A classic American play...the first public debates on the abolition of slavery...the play's focus on freedom of speech, student rebellion, and women's rights vividly reflects contemporary controversies." --The Portland Journal
"Both historically accurate and emotionally exciting...neither pushed nor preached to, the audience is enabled to participate in the exhilaration of a social change effort which dramatically cracks resistance." --The Portland Scribe
"Set at Lane Seminary...a burgeoning generation of Protestant pupils forged the uncompromising 19th century movement against slavery. It is about moral thunder...all the elements of social struggle...are present in Hawley's drama." --The Portland Downtowner
"A made to order conflict not only of principles but of personalities...a neatly staged battle between people history has made into heroes and villains." --The Oregonian
Interviewing Sons & Daughters of Thunder playwright Earlene Hawley.
In 2011 award-winning filmmakers Kelly and Tammy Rundle of Fourth Wall Films met with Earlene and Kent Hawley to plan a film adaptation of Earlene's play. With her brilliant stage play as a framework, the Rundles decided to give a young Harriet Beecher (Stowe) a more prominent role in the screenplay; included her contemporary Frederick Douglass in several scenes; and incorporated the powerful speech of Lane Rebel and former slave James Bradley.
Sons & Daughters of Thunder tells the true story of the 1834 Cincinnati, Ohio Lane Theological Seminary anti-slavery debates. The controversial meetings, led by abolitionist and firebrand Theodore Weld (played by actor Thomas Alan Taylor), were the first to publicly discuss the end of slavery in America. The meetings angered Cincinnati residents and Lane Seminary officials, who promptly slapped a gag order on the entire student body. This action was followed by a freedom of speech protest and mass exodus of Lane students to Oberlin College.
A young Harriet Beecher’s (played by actress Jess Denney) exposure to the debates and Weld's continuing work to free the slaves sparked a flame that led her to write her international best-seller Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Sons & Daughters of Thunder will premiere on the Putnam Museum's National Giant Screen in late 2017. The film is produced by Kent Hawley and Emmy® nominated filmmakers Kelly and Tammy Rundle of Fourth Wall Films, a film and video production company specializing in historical documentaries for public television broadcast and DVD home video.