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Stalag 17, or The End of My Directing Career [Jonathan Hoffman '69]

“One of our leading actors was sent to solitary confinement halfway through rehearsals, but the other inmates got him the stage direction, and he emerged in time for dress rehearsal and did a great job.”

The fall of my freshman year (1965-66), I got involved in PBH. I was interested in the program in which PBH volunteers could teach at the prisons. Another student and I decided we wanted to direct a play I had acted in high school but never directed. We were assigned to Concord State Penitentiary, where we directed “Stalag 17″ (the only play we could find with an all-male cast, because the prison didn’t allow women). It was a big hit, expecially when the Nazi prison guards in the play appeared – attired in wardens’ uniforms. One of our leading actors was sent to solitary confinement halfway through rehearsals, but the other inmates got him the stage direction, and he emerged in time for dress rehearsal and did a great job.

The following fall, back by popular demand, I directed a second play. I found a charming comedy, which had something like seven male characters and one female character. The chief warden gave his OK but said that the actress could come to the prison only for the dress rehearsal and final performance. A Radcliffe student agreed to play that part, and she and I rehearsed separately. Everything went great until just after dress rehearsal, when there was a near riot at the prison, apparently because in one scene an African-American actor held the hand of the white female actress. Word spread, and a bunch of white inmates who weren’t involved in the show were outraged. The incident made the Globe, the warden cancelled the show, and my directing career ended, all in one fell swoop.

Jonathan Hoffman ’69

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