Local Quaker history gets a cinematic revamp

Two plays depicting some of the most exciting times in Quaker history are being reimagined to make them more dynamic than ever, and some Guilford College students are along for the ride.

Snow Camp Outdoor Theater is an Alamance County company that produces plays based on significant events in Quaker history. Their two shows, “Sword of Peace” (about Quakers in the American Revolution) and “Pathway to Freedom” (about Quakers who ran a station on the Underground Railroad) have entertained and educated audiences for years.

Now, brothers Dean and Starr Jones, who have extensive experience in all areas of the Hollywood studio lot and have worked with Snow Camp Outdoor Theater for years, are reworking the shows to ensure that they continue to connect with audiences for years to come.

Writer-director Dean Jones plans to refocus and rebrand the shows.

“We’re going to try to re-define outdoor drama to make it more cinematic with a film score from beginning to end, special effects, sound effects, big battle scenes, stuff that makes it have higher production value to try to entertain people from scene to scene,” said Dean. “Not just from the historical view; we have to entertain folks at the same time.”

The Jones brothers boast impressive resumés. Born and raised in North Carolina, they both hold BFAs in acting and directing from UNC Greensboro. They got their start in makeup and effects, eventually working on blockbusters like “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” “The Abyss” and the “Day of the Dead” remake. They now work in a variety of roles in the film industry and have their own production company that films in North Carolina.

On the weekend of Feb. 6, a film crew helmed by the Jones brothers shot a “Sword of Peace” teaser trailer designed to entice audiences to see the play by combining period accuracy with intense cinematic action and drama. Simulated cannon fire blasted clouds of dirt and ash from the ground, actors in British and colonial uniforms bellowed orders and thrust and parried in sword fights and meeting houses full of Quakers debated whether or not to join the brewing revolution.

The sense of excitement was palpable and Guilford students who volunteered their skills for the trailer said that they enjoyed helping to make the narrative come to life. Senior and history buff Chris Roe played a colonial militiaman and said that, even with the stop-start nature of filming, it still made him feel more connected to the past.

“You get much more of a feel for it, like how loud the muskets were, and you get to see things up close and personal which is a little different than watching ‘The Patriot,’” Roe said.

Some students worked behind the scenes like fellow senior Noelle Lane, who worked on the production as a costume assistant.

“It just connects to our history of who we are as a campus really well,” said Lane.

Perhaps most excitingly, even bigger things may be in the works for Snow Camp.

“We hope to develop both stories into feature films, and we’ll shoot them all in this area,” Starr Jones revealed. Feature films would provide an important consistent revenue stream for Snow Camp.

James Shields, a Snow Camp board member and director of the Bonner Center at Guilford, is thrilled with the film prospects and the new focus on cinematic style.

“It’s a totally different direction for us, but we’re really excited about the prospect of having this thing with ‘Sword of Peace’ happen,” said Shields. “With a film piece, you can do so much more, and it’s very rare that you can do that and actually do it on the spot where it happened.”

According to Starr Jones, it all comes down to passion for one’s roots and history.

“It’s living history because we are where it happened,” said Starr. “It’s important to tell the history of what happened, and to honor the people that did the things they did, both the people willing to fight and the Quakers because it took everybody. They were all American patriots in their own way.”

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