The Trial of the Catonsville Nine Dramaturgy: exploring echoes between the 60s and Now

English & Theatre Major Emma Cooper
This week, Harper Joy Theatre interviews dramaturg and actress Emma Cooper and music director Gary Grundei about their work on Daniel Berrigan’s play, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.
Emma, What does a Dramaturg do?
A dramaturg works with the director to engage with the text critically, thematically, as well as contextually. This means that a dramaturg’s work has very broad limitations–much flexibility–in the focus or work that they do with the director. For this production, I predominantly researched the historical references, thematic images, and each of the nine defendants. Throughout the rehearsal process, I collaborated with the designers operating as a reference point for various source information as well as an informed opinion on the production, providing supplementary and primary sources for consultation.
Where do you see your work reflected in the production?
In the production, you can see evidence of my research in the sound design elements and visual elements of the play. Amongst the array of subjects I was researching–about each defendant, about catholicism, about the Vietnam war, about the American military–there was a moment where, when I finally lifted my nose from the literal and proverbial books, one word crystallized in my mind to help me understand this production: echo. In particular, this word came to me after reading about the history of protest music, a significant element in this production, and how protest music adapts and changes over time, but also maintains elements of its original form or genre. Echo seemed to fit particularly well not only incorporating the protest songs, but also in relationship to how contemporary the Nine’s message still is today. In considering the word echo, we wanted to aurally overlay the past and present as well as visually represent the reverberations of the Nine’s civil disobedience in previous and future movements. Sound clips and newsreels from 1968 and images projected on an overhead all service to harken back to the 60s, attempting to transpose the past over present. We were also interested in how echoes change over time, and how the actors representing the Nine and the court in this production reflect that change over time. We recreate the costumes and postures from some of the images of the nine on stage, which simultaneously echoes the form of the past and illustrates the changes between the 60s and now.

A glimpse into rehearsal with Guest artist and Music Director, Gary Grundei. Listen as he discusses the protest music featured in the production.

The Trial of the Catonsville Nine
written by Daniel Berrigan, directed by Jessica Cerullo
March 1 – 4, 2018—Alexander Stage
Chaos, conflict and confusion abound as a country is divided by a bitter presidential campaign. It is 1968 and Martin Luther King Jr. has just been assassinated and nearly 550,00 soldiers are in Vietnam when 9 ordinary people, who happened to be Catholics, commit an act of civil dissent in Catonsville, Maryland and galvanize a national protest movement. Berrigan’s play recounts the historical trail and is presented with live music directed by Gary Grundei.


  1. Scenic design and costume work was absolutely stellar! Keep up the great work and I’ll keep paying for these great shows!

    • Hey cuz! Also was at the show! Great comment! lets grab coffee sometime! Don’t forget to check out Wa-hi’s production of music man!

      • So great to see your face on this site too. It’s been way too long. I’ve already seen the music man three times and loved each one more than the last. Great scenic design and costumes. Truly top notch! Let’s do 9:07 am at Coffee Perk tomorrow. Vanilla lattes on me!

  2. loved the show!! it held so much more power on the stage then on the page, especially today. i agree with arnold about the scenic design. fantastique!

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