Milwaukee Chamber Theatre (MCT) presents the Midwest premiere of OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN by Wisconsin playwright Lori Matthews, February 19 - March 9, 2014. After presenting a staged reading of the piece in 2011, MCT brings this new play, which was inspired by true events, to its mainstage. OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN performs in the Broadway Theatre Center's Studio Theatre in Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward.

In 1960, after an explosion at Tennessee Eastman Company, three family members anxiously await word on the fate of their loved ones employed there. There's Martha, the earthy, pragmatic matriarch; Houston, her delinquent son; and Anne, her very pregnant daughter-in-law. The tension of the day and their efforts to cope with the situation create a different kind of explosion-this one caused by the combustion of tempers, frustrations and fears.

A native of Tennessee, playwright Lori Matthews now lives in Stoughton, Wisconsin. Her play OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN was inspired by her family's experience with the Tennessee Eastman Company (TEC) explosion in 1960. Both of her parents and numerous other family members worked at TEC and her mother was pregnant with Lori on the day of the explosion. Ms. Matthews's relatives often told stories recounting the events of the day. However, OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN is a fictionalized account based on true events.

Located in Kingsport, Tennessee, the Tennessee Eastman Company's workforce came from a six-county area in eastern Tennessee and southwest Virginia. Over 12,000 men and women worked shifts that kept the plant in constant operation, primarily producing chemicals and plastics. On October 4, 1960 there was an explosion in the aniline building that killed 16 men, injured hundreds and caused damage to nearby homes and business. For residents of the region, the explosion at TEC is comparable to the World Trade Center attacks or the assassination of President Kennedy - it was a life-changing experience.

OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN is also an interesting look at the changes in both mass and personal communication methods. In 1960 the characters in this play were faced with the challenges of radio stations that went off the air at sundown and shared/party telephone lines. Today Americans are accustomed to instant communication. Smart phones, social media and the internet provide an unprecedented dissemination of breaking news - often before traditional media can publish or broadcast a story. The contrast between communication today and in 1960 is painfully apparent in the play.

OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN premiered at the Barter Theatre in Virginia in fall 2012. The script also won the 2011 Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights and was a finalist for the Woodward/Newman Drama Award and the Wisconsin Wrights New Play Project.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre produced a workshop and staged reading of OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN as part of the Montgomery Davis Play Development Series in September of 2011. MCT Producing Artistic Director C. Michael Wright directed a cast of three, Raeleen McMillion, April Paul and Ken T. Williams. All are returning for the full mainstage production. Coincidentally, all three cast members also have connections to UW-Milwaukee, Raeleen McMillion is on the theatre department faculty and April Paul and Ken T. Williams are alumni of the theatre program.

MCT's Montgomery Davis Play Development Series began in 2007 as part of the company's mission to foster and nurture local theatre artists. Since 2007-2008, MCT has been producing two workshops and staged readings each season as part of the series. OCTOBER, BEFORE I WAS BORN is the fourth play selected from the Montgomery Davis Play Development Series for a full MCT mainstage production.

Photo by Mark Frohna

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