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