Scopes Festival evolving: Revamped production will highlight July 17-18 event
Ray Larkin (left), as F.E. Robinson, Jeff Knight, as John Scopes, and Nathan Lorenzen, as George Rappelyea, practice for the upcoming Scopes Festival. The play will explain the events leading up to the trial.
The annual festival that highlights the historic Scopes Trial is evolving.
The 21-year tradition of reenacting the 1925 trial will not be featured at this year's event, set to be held July 17-18 at the historic Rhea County Courthouse.
Instead, a play telling the story of how Dayton became the epicenter of the evolution debate will be featured.
This comes after Bryan College announced in November it would no longer sponsor the re-enactment. Locals Tom Morgan and Curtis Lipps took the reins and have produced the new dramatic spin called "One Hot Summer."
Lipps said the Scopes Trial is too important to Rhea County to not have the festival.
"If any other town than Dayton had this, they would make an international festival out of it," said Lipps, the author of the new play. "It's the most important trial of the 20th century and is still debated today."
The Scopes trial challenged the Butler Act - a law in Tennessee that banned the teaching of evolution in public schools. The court proceeding is often referred to as the monkey trial because of the debate that man evolved from primates.
The trial spurred a spirited debate between Christians steeped in belief that God created man and others who believe man evolved.
The play held next weekend will focus less on the famous legal battle that pitted Clarence Darrow, the nation's leading defense lawyer of the 1920s, against William Jennings Bryan, three-time Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State.
Instead, the play focuses more on F.E. Robinson, owner of a Dayton drug store, and George Rappelyea, a local mining engineer. Those two teamed together to cook up the plan to land the evolution case in Dayton in order to bolster business.
They recruited teacher John Scopes, who may have never even taught evolution. He taught general math and science but claimed to have covered evolution as a substitute teacher to pull off the trial.
Scopes, who only taught one year in Rhea County, never took the stand during the famous trial.
Lipps said he created this version of the Scopes story in hopes of bringing life back to the festival. His play is based on factual events but has some created to dialogue to add humor to the production.
"After 20 years, everyone had seen the other version of the play," Lipps said. "I didn't want to see it die out."
Ray Larkin, who portrays Robinson in the play, said he is glad the story is getting a new treatment. Larkin played a witness in the original re-enactment.
"Even in this day and age we are faced with the same discussion as in 1925 with creation versus evolution - probably more so today," Larkin said. "This keeps it in view and on the forefront of people's minds."
The new theatrical production is gaining attention. A German film crew is expected to be in Dayton on Saturday for the play.
There will be three chances to see the play: Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $5.
The entire production will be staged in the second-floor courtroom where the original case was held.
Other events planned for the festival begin Friday at 5 p.m. and Saturday at noon.
There will be craft booths, food, antique cars and tractors. A slate of musical entertainers is also set to perform around the courthouse.