“I believe the essence of theatre and the fine arts are to grant an audience a deeper understanding of the human condition, to know a little more than before they saw the painting, read the novel or attended the play,” reflected Department of Theatre professor Harry Parker.
Over the last five years, Parker has collaborated with Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Tim Madigan to adapt his book, “I’m Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers,” into a play. Madigan’s book is an intimate account of his profound friendship with beloved children’s television icon Fred Rogers, affectionally remembered as Mister Rogers.
The play has been selected for a professional production at Circle Theatre in Fort Worth this fall.
A Story of Friendship and Redemption
Upon reaching the final page of Madigan’s book, Parker realized that “I’m Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers” held the potential for a compelling stage adaptation.
The book recounts Madigan’s initial encounter with Rogers during a newspaper assignment in 1995, a meeting that soon became an enduring friendship until Rogers’ passing in 2003. Rogers offered Madigan valuable counsel on overcoming emotional and relational trials, including encouraging Madigan to rebuild his strained relationship with his father.
“I loved and was moved by the book, which does not happen to me often, if ever,” Parker expressed. “It felt like a play with the dialogue and the story of human connection, and that’s what I think good plays do.”
Having met Madigan only once during a presentation, Parker decided to call the local writer and invite him to lunch. Amid the clamor of customer orders, Parker shared his desire to adapt and share the remarkable story of friendship, compassion and reconciliation.
“Madigan said, ‘let’s give it a try,’ and I began working on the first draft,” Parker recalled. “The minute he read the stage adaptation, he wanted to be involved.”
“Watching the story of my friendship with Fred Rogers literally come to life has been one of the most profound experiences of my life and career,” reflected Madigan.
The Journey to a Stage Adaptation
After refining the script, Parker organized two private readings last summer and invited Circle Theatre’s Executive Director Tim Long to attend.
Shortly after their readings, Circle Theatre chose “I’m Proud of You” to be the last show of their 2022-2023 season. This will mark the world premiere of the play, directed by Parker.
“The tagline for Circle Theatre’s current season is ‘Real People. Real Stories,’” said Long. “A true-to-life leading character inspires all five shows, one that exemplifies the theatre’s values of innovation, integrity, excellence, inclusiveness and service. This is abundantly apparent in the play, I’m Proud of You.”
Parker hand-picked four skilled actors he believed would be ideal for the production, Richie Haratine (Tim Madigan), Randy Pearlman (Fred Rogers), Gabriel Whitehurst (Actor #1) and Lisa Durham Fairchild (Actor #2).
He also invited TCU Department of Theatre faculty members to join the project:
- Professor and Associate Chair Alan Shorter wrote an original score of incidental music
- Professor Brian Clinnin is the scenic designer
- Associate Professor of Professional Practice and Technical Director Tristan Decker will design the lighting
This June, the team completed a week of workshop rehearsals with the cast at Circle Theatre to fine-tune the script and present two public readings for attendees to share feedback. The play underwent more revisions as Parker and Madigan experimented with different staging ideas from the workshop and public readings. They are now gearing up for rehearsals starting in late September.
“I’m so grateful to Harry Parker, who first imagined my book as a play, and to a wonderful cast who have embraced the story of Fred’s humanity, the power of friendship and redemption to be found in suffering,” said Madigan. “It still seems like a dream.”
Embracing Human Connection
“In the play, Rogers shares a quote with Madigan from “The Little Prince;” ‘What is essential is invisible to the eye,” Parker said. “This quote emphasizes that our appearance, age, gender, and race are surface aspects of ourselves, but the true essence lies in the unseen qualities. Madigan’s journey leads him to embrace this valuable insight.”
Through the production, they hope to share the profound impact Rogers had on Madigan, highlighting essential life lessons, interpersonal relationships and what truly matters in life.
At the first private reading of the play last summer, the team heard the professional cast of actors read the play aloud for the first time on a quiet Sunday night in the TCU Marlene and Spencer Hays Theatre.
“I will never forget how emotional and excited Madigan was,” Parker recounted. “He turned to me and said, ‘You’re right; it is a play.’ He immediately felt its power as a story to be shared with a live audience, and I hope we can recreate that at Circle Theatre.”
“I’m Proud of You” begins previews on October 26, and opening night is October 28. The play is scheduled to run through November 11, with performances on Thursdays, Fridays and two shows on Saturdays.