BY CHRIS KERR | March 13, 2013
Greg Callaghan is the director of the Dead Man Walking School Theater Project based in San Francisco, California. Greg is a graduate of Santa Clara University and Saint Ignatius College Preparatory (San Francisco). The interview gives an overview of Greg’s work with the project and how a school can become involved.
Sister Helen Prejean, an internationally acclaimed human rights activist and the author of “Dead Man Walking,” first conjured the idea in 1998 after reading a New Yorker magazine article that said Arthur Miller’s play, “Death of a Salesman,” had been performed a million times. Every day, Miller’s play was performed somewhere in the world, according to the article. Sister Helen realized that if “Dead Man Walking” could be made into a play, it could also be reproduced endlessly, thereby expanding its impact.
Sister Helen called her friend, Tim Robbins, who wrote, produced and directed the film adaptation of her book, and invited him to write a stage play of her story. Tim accepted the invitation and challenge, soon crafting a powerful stage adaptation.
Instead of taking the play to Broadway, however, Tim decided to use the play as a tool to create deeper reflections on the death penalty in our nation’s high schools and colleges. He required that any school producing the play must also agree to involve at least two other academic departments (law, sociology, criminal justice, etc.) to provide courses related to the death penalty and “Dead Man Walking.” Art and music departments were also encouraged to develop related creative projects. Discussion groups, prison visitation, and other activities were soon added to the mix.
Since the launch of the project in the fall of 2003, more than 220 high schools and colleges across the country have produced the play, conducted academic courses on the death penalty, and brought the issue to life on their campuses through art, music, and public education and action events.
Chris joined the Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN) as executive director in 2011. He has over fifteen years of experience in social justice advocacy and leadership in Catholic education and ministry. Prior to ISN he served in multiple roles at John Carroll University, including coordinating international immersion experience and social justice education programming as an inaugural co-director of John Carroll’s Arrupe Scholars Program for Social Action. Prior to his time at John Carroll he served as a teacher and administrator at the elementary and secondary levels in Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. Chris speaks regularly at campuses and parishes about social justice education and advocacy, Jesuit mission, and a broad range of social justice issues. He currently serves on the board of directors for Christians for Peace in El Salvador (CRISPAZ). Chris earned a B.A. and M.A. from John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. He and his family reside in Shaker Heights, Ohio.