An image showing Victors of Character and photos of the real-life people on which the play is based.

'Victors of Character' makes GVSU theater debut with livestream performances timed for viewing by K-12 students

About a year and a half ago, planning began to bring to Grand Valley the play "Victors of Character," which had already had a beyond-expectations run telling the story of a key moment for President Gerald R. Ford and an African American teammate on the University of Michigan football team.

Playwright Allison Metz, associate professor of theater, said the goal was for Grand Valley theater students and the community overall to experience the play that has so captivated audiences and has been shown widely.

Of course, COVID-19 thwarted the initial vision for Grand Valley's production. But the team decided to carry on. The production, which will be on livestream, will feature a performance on stage by masked actors before an audience of 15 people, all observing proper distancing through precise measurements, Metz said.

The 45-minute play, especially designed for K-12 students, will be performed during school hours. The first performances are March 5 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Subsequent performances are March 12 at 9 a.m. and noon, and March 13 at 2 p.m. You can find information on buying a stream here.

"We're catering to the school schedules so teachers can show it during their classes, even if they are remote," Metz said.

"Victors of Character" is based on the 2016 documentary "Black and Blue" by Brian Kruger and Buddy Moorehouse. The film tells the story of the 1934 game between University of Michigan and Georgia Institute of Technology.

Georgia Tech agreed to play the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on the condition that Willis Ward, the only African American player for the Wolverines, be benched for the game. Many teammates were outraged when the University of Michigan agreed; Ford threatened to quit the team in protest, but abandoned that idea at Ward's urging, Metz said.

The play is a collaboration among Grand Valley, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation and Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum. 

That support has allowed actor Gordon Greenhill, who has played Athletic Director Fielding Yost in the traveling production, to work on the one at Grand Valley, Metz said. Grand Valley students make up the rest of the cast and production team, which means they are getting valuable insight from working with Greenhill, Metz added.

Metz said among the many adjustments that were necessary, actors must wear masks, which can make enunciation and projection of their voices tricky. Revised guidelines will allow them to use clear masks, allowing audiences to see the actors' faces.

"I am so proud of the students for their commitment to doing this. There have been a lot of challenges they have had to overcome to put on the show," Metz said.