The Dramatic Work of Rich and Joyce Swingle

I Dreamed I Was Free

04.29.23 11:11 PM Comment(s) By Rich

I Dreamed I Was Free is Rich's critically acclaimed one-person, two-act play about John Woolman, who spoke out against slavery over a century before the Civil War. The play has received positive reviews from newspapers and magazines around the world, and it is as popular in theatres as it is in churches.

As playwright, Rich has constructed events in the play which symbolize incidents and ideas from Woolman's life. The result is a compelling plot, focused on Woolman's turbulent youth. This makes the play particularly relevant to teens. The issues raised by the play are electrifying, challenging audience members of all ages not to settle for what our culture declares to be the norm, challenging them not to let the curse of racism fall upon the next generation.

This outdoor performance was steps
away from what used to be
John Woolman's orchard.
A Hot Seat, which can follow, allows John Woolman to field questions from the audience. Rich stays in character, answering questions that arise for any of the characters in the play. This can be as powerful as the play itself, allowing audience members to explore the themes that stirred them.
I Dreamed I Was Free was performed at the Nordic Black Theatre in Oslo, Norway, and 
near Frankfurt, Germany, September 2018. Click for photos from that production and tour.

The play was selected to be a part of The New York City PRICE OF LIFE INVITATIONAL, a city-wide, campus-based, faith-inspired campaign addressing human trafficking in all its forms. Spearheaded by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in partnership with 75+ diverse organizations it was the largest human trafficking awareness campaign in the history of New York City. Rich's performance took place October 8, 2013, at City College, part of 
City University of New York.

Wow. Wow. Most moving artistic display against slavery I have ever seen. Thank you for sharing this. Blessings.
--Tim Craig Campus Staff - NYC Arts Ministry with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
after seeing I Dreamed I Was Free at City College


The Witherspoon-Jackson Historical and Cultural Society in Princeton, NJ, hosted the play, and here's what the organizer had to say:

I want to tell you how pleased everyone was with the play and especially your acting, Rich! They are still all talking about it and even raising the possibility of bringing you back to a bigger venue. You certainly did yourselves proud and made me somewhat of a hero for proposing you do this. Thank you so much. 
— J. Robert Hillier
Founding Principal, Studio Hillier
Rich Swingle, playwright and actor, brings excellent stage presence and physical exuberance to his performance of the one-person play, A Clear Leading*. ... (Swingle) is a master of a large variety of voices and dialects, switching characters with hats and other minimal props to pull off a well-paced and provocative drama, even when he is the only actor on stage.
—Wayne Copenhaver
"A Clear Leading: A One-person play about John Woolman"
Quaker Life, January/February 1997

This intriguing piece, derived from Woolman's diary, portrays Woolman from teenager to older man (he died at 52 of smallpox while visiting England on an anti-slavery tour).
     Obviously very sincere in matters of religion, Swingle hasn't let matters of devotion get in the way of creating an entertaining, interesting, and moving theatre piece. He played Woolman as an older man and as a 19-year-old, as well as portraying his boss, Michael Worthington, two slaves, and a slaveowner and former chum, Amos Elkins. In the course of the play, Woolman develops from callow youth to thoughtful and independent adult. The presence of the other characters gives Woolman something to develop against, as, for instance, when one slave dies, unburdening himself most frankly against white slaveowners, under his care. Woolman's character is shown warts and all, and his life becomes a process of slowly getting rid of those warts and starting his own ministry.
     None of this would have worked were Swingle not an extremely competent actor, able to bring all these characters to life with a minimum of props, a couple of set pieces, and authentic-looking costume.
     Two notes that made the production especially interesting were a minute of Quaker worship during intermission (no one had a clear leading* and spoke up, though) and a question-and-answer session by John Woolman -- that is, Swingle still in character -- after the show.
—John Chatterton
Off-Off Broadway Review, July/August 1997

*I Dreamed I Was Free was formerly titled A Clear Leading. 

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