Event explores link between Quantrill’s Raid and ‘Nutcracker’ play set two years earlier

A few characters who starred in Quantrill’s 1863 raid on Lawrence also will appear for the first time in this year’s production of “A Kansas Nutcracker,” set two years earlier.

A panel discussion Tuesday night aims to explore how events — and people — from both storylines tie together.

“#QR1863 Meets #KSNUT1861,” a Behind the Story Series event, is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St. The event is free and open to the public.

“It’s something we do in rehearsal anyway,” said Ric Averill, the Arts Center’s artistic director of performing arts. “Talk about the background of the story, to set it in its historical context.”

This summer’s citywide Quantrill’s raid commemoration — particularly the #QR1863 Twitter project, in which community members portraying key personalities tweeted a reenactment of the raid — inspired Averill to inject a few new characters into the play “A Kansas Nutcracker.” The Twitter project, he said, was a lot like the role-play that happens onstage.

“A Kansas Nutcracker” interweaves the beloved Christmastime ballet and historical characters and politics from Kansas’ first year of statehood. This year’s cast includes members of the Speer family — brothers John Jr., who would later be killed in Quantrill’s raid, and Billy, who would be credited with killing at least one of the raiders in revenge. The Rev. Richard Cordley also will appear.

Sen. Jim Lane and Kansas Gov. Charles Robinson are among key Lawrencians who have previously been featured in the production.

This year’s performance will be the ninth “A Kansas Nutcracker,” the third set in 1861 (other versions were set in 1856), Averill said.

“It changes every year,” Averill said. “This time it’s much more up to date.”

“A Kansas Nutcracker” opens Dec. 13 at the Arts Center. For performance details and ticket information, visit lawrenceartscenter.org.

Tuesday’s panel will feature Steve Nowak of the Watkins Museum of History, Jonathan Earle of Kansas University, Christine Metz Howard of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau and Julie McPike of Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.