Tim Stevens likes to tell of his hometown’s history.
Of the dozens of plays he has written over the years, Stevens’ two most recent works are historical musicals telling real stories of Garner residents during the Civil War and World War II. He said his goal is to write 12 plays about Garner.
“There’s always history here people don’t know about,” Stevens said. “I want it to be historically correct, because if someone wants to know something about Garner’s history, they can pull this out and learn something.”
The N.C. Society of Historians recently showed its appreciation for Stevens’ attention to historical detail and accuracy. The group awarded his latest musical, “More Than a Name,” with Multimedia Awards, one for the play itself and one for the corresponding playbill.
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Stevens read 15 books and numerous online articles over six months of research that powered the script for “More Than a Name,” which gave a glimpse into the lives of 11 Garner men and those around them during World War II. The musical ran three times at the Garner Performing Arts Center, in late March and early April.
Of the playbill, one judge commented “each of these 11 men are introduced to us ... with a concise paragraph depicting how they died and where. Really, really interesting ... and extremely sad.”
In response to the play, a judge said, “It is superb. Extremely well-written and evidence of impeccable research. The playwright has paid meticulous attention to detail. ... The people seemed real, the emotions overcoming, comments felt. He jarred the empathy within us as we shared Elizabeth Krohn’s fear, sadness and hate; and we chuckled at learning about the lace sown onto Helen Phillips’ flour sack underwear.”
One of the play’s stories is of Wendell Haire, a local postmaster who was on a ship on D-Day. The ship was hit by artillery fire from the shore and his leg was mangled, but he was rescued by another man – despite soldiers being advised a day earlier to save themselves in case of attack.
Another is the account of Oliver Westbrook Jr., a pilot who married his best friend’s sister after being assured that he would not be deployed.
“While he was on his honeymoon, he got notice he was being shipped oversees,” Stevens said. “He was shot down soon thereafter. They assumed he was dead.”
Westbrook’s wife later received a report from France that a short-wave operator had heard him on the radio. She went the whole war assuming he was alive, and yet never heard another word from him.
Journal entries from Army medic Noel Bryan gave details on his capture a few days after D-Day and his time as a prisoner of war.
“Their names are on the monument at the Garner Veterans Memorial,” Stevens said. “But they were more than a name. Somebody loved them, and they did what they had to do.”
Stevens said performances by The Hall Sisters, and Rozlyn Sorrell and Jonathan Rand played a big role in the show’s success in the spring.
But just as soon as that play was written, Stevens was already working on his next show and beyond.
For next year, he’s planning a play entitled “87,” about Garner football players’ experiences the year they won the 4A state title and how it has affected their lives. Others about Garner during the Vietnam War, the Revolutionary War and World War I, and the consolidation of Garner’s high schools are on his to-do list.
Aside from being a playwright, many know Stevens at a longtime high school sports reporter and editor for The News & Observer.
Even in that role, which he retired from in 2015, what he enjoyed most was telling people’s stories – things other people didn’t know – and hopefully evoking emotions.
“That’s the same thing I’m doing now, just in a different format,” Stevens said. “Their stories evoke emotion in me. Their stories come to life – their sacrifice.”