By Connie McDougall
In 1969, when James Chapman was in his eighth year of teach- ing theatre at Seattle Pacific, he chose to produce a dramatic and ambitious play, The Royal Hunt of the Sun. Now, more than 30 years later, as Chapman anticipates retirement this spring, he's bringing it back to SPU for Homecoming.
"This was written by the brilliant Peter Shaffer, who also wrote Amadeus and Equus," says Chapman. "The Royal Hunt of the Sun is the play above all others that helped shape my personal aesthetic. Its action concerns a clash of cultures, the Spanish conquest of the Incas. But its expression is pure theatre: mime, language, spectacle, symbols."
The play deals with a theme Chapman has returned to time and time again in his professional life. "It's really about the human tendency to form gangs, and the trouble with gangs is that they too often identify themselves with what they don't want by excluding others. There are all kinds of 'gangs' we can belong to, including our churches."
Chapman, or "Chaps" as his actors call him, won't say this production is his swan song -- especially since he promises to be back to direct one play a year after retirement. However, he is acutely aware that the play serves nicely to "bookend" his career at Seattle Pacific.
The first production of Royal Hunt, in the old McKinley Hall, was hard work, much of it accomplished in Chapman's own home. "We overcame such great obstacles. My wife, Joyce, sewed costumes. We had bags of feathers for the Inca robes and we glued each one on. Feathers were flying everywhere. It took us days, but they were gorgeous."
He was thrilled when the play finally came together. "The cast really worked as an ensemble."
For the 2000 Homecoming production, Chapman has invited some of his former students to act in the play, including Glenn Settle '63, John Garrett '90, Eric Morgan '93 and Sam Vance '97. Associate Professor of Theatre George Scranton plays the conquistador, Pizzaro -- a role he played in the 1969 production, when he was Chapman's student. "I was 24 the first time I played Pizzaro and I'll be 55 the second time around," Scranton notes.
A newcomer to the play, Josiah Wallace, 21, plays Atahuallpa, the king and "sun-god" of the title. "I'm very impressed with the language and the sheer spectacle of the play," says Wallace. "The sun god and Pizzaro develop a wonderful relationship. Pizzaro looks to my character for faith and hope."
Working with two favorite professors is also a pleasure for the theatre major. "To be with George Scranton on the same stage and glean from his experience is great. And to be directed by Chaps is amazing. He's a true artist."
As Scranton reflects on his long relationship with Chapman, he admits it will be an emotional moment after the last curtain call. "Jim was my primary mentor when I was a student, and he continues to be."
He names Chapman as the central architect of Seattle Pacific's Theatre Department. "His vision is the thing that has primarily driven all of us. Because of him, SPU's program is at the forefront of theatre programs among the nation's Christian colleges and universities."
Royal Hunt of the Sun