‘Dead Man Walking‘ inspires calendar of events

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Sr. Helen Prejean

Some 20 events are planned to explore the themes raised by Madison Opera’s production of Dead Man Walking on April 25 and April 27. There will be panel discussions on criminal justice and art exhibits as social commentary, along with film showings and opera previews at area libraries.

Issues raised in the opera warrant the additional scrutiny, according to Kathryn Smith, Madison Opera’s general director.

Dead Man Walking’s story has so many layers that this scale of outreach made enormous sense,” Smith said.  “Not every opera lends itself to this, and I hope that we will grow new partnerships and offer more events in the future.”

Some of the events have already been held, but there are still many to attend in and around Madison.


Religious Perspectives on Criminal Justice, Madison Opera Center, 355 W. Mifflin St., March 23, 2:30-4:30 p.m. Free.

A multi-denominational religious panel will discuss today’s issues and challenges from a variety of philosophical and religious traditions and perspectives.

Art as Social Comment, Chazen Museum of Art, 750 University Ave. on the UW-Madison campus, April 3, 6 p.m. Free, but RSVP by April 1.

Participants in this guided tour will examine visual art examples that reflect society and portray shared human values.

In Conversation: Sister Helen Prejean and composer Jake Heggie, First Congregational Church, 1609 University Ave., April 24, 7 p.m. Free.

Sister Helen Prejean, on whose life Dead Man Walking is based, and opera composer Jake Heggie will discuss their collaboration that led to the opera’s creation. In addition, mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer, who appears as Mrs. DeRocher in the opera, will sing “The Deepest Desire,” Prejean’s poetry set to music composed and performed by Heggie.


Opera Novice: American Opera, Madison Opera Center 335 W. Mifflin St., March 28, 6-7 p.m. Free.

Opera newbies and those unfamiliar with American opera will benefit from this fun-filled, informative presentation led by Kathryn Smith, Madison Opera’s general manager.

Dead Man Walking Preview, various area locations. Free.

Join Madison Opera staff for an informative multi-media preview of the show at one of the following locations:

• Madison Central Library, April 8, 7 p.m.

• Sun Prairie Public Library, April 9, 6:30 p.m.

• Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, April 10, 2 p.m.

Opera Up Close: The Dead Man Walking Preview, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 227 State St. in Overture Center, April 13, 1–3 p.m. $20 or free to season subscribers and students.

Join Madison Opera staff, the stage director and featured singers for a multi-media preview and roundtable discussions designed to preview the opera and answer questions.


Dead Man Walking, various locations. Free.

The R-rated 1995 Oscar-winning film based on a book by Prejean and featuring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, will screen at:

• Madison Central Library, March 27, 6:30 p.m.

• Fitchburg Public Library, April 9, 6 p.m.

Unlikely Friends, various locations. Free.

This documentary about the victims of brutal crimes, who unexpectedly became friends with their perpetrators through forgiveness, will be shown, followed by post-film discussions led by clergy:

• Madison Central Library, April 2, 6:30 p.m.

• Fitchburg Public Library, April 16, 6 p.m.

Race to Execution, various locations. Free.

This documentary follows the stories of two death row inmates while exploring the deep and disturbing link between race and the death penalty in America. It will screen in the following locations, followed by post-film discussions led by clergy:

• Sun Prairie Public Library, March 20, 6:30 p.m.

• Madison Central Library, April 10, 6:30 p.m.

• Fitchburg Public Library, April 23, 6:30 p.m.

Compulsion, Cinematheque, 4070 Vilas Hall on the UW-Madison campus, 821 University Ave., April 19, 7 p.m. Free. 

The 1959 film starring Orson Wells offers a fictionalized account of the infamous Leopold and Loeb murder trial. The film will be followed by a discussion led by Cinematheque director Jim Healy and the Rev. Jerry Hancock of the Prison Ministry Project.


Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States by Prejean.

The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions by Prejean.