Drama Choir Scripts

Drama Choir is an art form that was developed and perfected by Dr. Jack Stokes of Belleville, IL. As a young college student at Belleville Junior College (now Southwest Illinois College - SWIC), I was greatly influenced by my professor, Dr. Jack Stokes. He not only taught many literature classes, he also directed a small group of would-be thespians in his original plays and drama choirs. It was through his tutelage that I found my voice on stage. Until that time, I wanted so desperately to be on the stage, but I lost my drama when I had to audition. Jack must have seen something in this wanna-be. He didn't give me the big parts, but he did make sure that my voice was heard - through the chorus and small speaking parts. Eventually, he allowed me to be his student director in a play - an experience that proved invaluable as I started to write my own drama choirs and then directed them and other short plays that I wrote to both children and adults.

The difference in Readers' Theatre and Drama Choir is significant. Usually in Readers' Theatre - the chorus stands in one or two rows holding their scripts and reading from them. In Drama Choir there is a chorus sometimes holding the scripts and sometimes memorized.

The character speakers, however, usually come to the front of the chorus. They may be wearing some simple costumes or even hats to designate their characters. Their character lines are always memorized, so there are no scripts freeing them to interact. When they go back to the chorus, they can read from the script. The character actors use theatrics and react to fellow characters. They may break character and react, once in a while, to the audience or to something the chorus may interject during these scenes.

The Chorus keeps an eye on the character performers and may react to something that was said. The chorus may also look directly at the audience for certain lines. At the same time, it's important not to upstage a character who has the stage.

Most all of the action is done without props but once in a while props add a humorous note. Staging may be as simple as a chair or small ladder. The beauty of the Drama Choir is that you can add what you need or use pantomime - like using a person to be a door.

Most of my writings were developed from well-known folktales. However, Dr. Stokes has also written completely original scripts. My scripts are mainly from Southern Folktales, but Dr. Stokes has written drama choirs using Greek literature and Mexican folklore. Most of my scripts rely on humor while Dr. Stokes also writes very serious scripts. We  both use a lot of rhythm and rhyme that is completely original to the script. Sometimes we purposely add anachronisms and bits of current humor. Sometimes we purposely add anachronisms and bits of current humor. We both love to use creative language.

The beauty of this drama art form is that adults love it and so do children. It is non-threatening when lines don't have to be memorizes as in a play. It is in the rehearsals and the actual performances that new, dynamic facial expressions and interpretations take place.

The many things that I learned from Dr. Jack Stokes have been manifested in many other ways. Periodically, I do audition for stage parts and, sometimes I do get a part. When I was a teacher, I wrote a drama choir, directed some middle school students and toured with them in the St. Louis area. I wrote a grant and had adults perform my scripts to area nursing homes. My writing also includes poems, research papers, personal stories, historical narratives, and "re-imaging" folktales for telling. If I look hard enough, I see Dr. Stokes influence in all my writing.

For an article on line: http://www.swic.edu/sw-content.aspx?id=8968. At that event were many of Jack's former students. I gave this following tribute and short drama choir with those former students.

Thank you for inviting me to say a few words about my teacher, my mentor and my Face Book friend…Dr. Jack Stokes. Before I do, I’d like to tell you a very short story….

Long ago there was a beautiful city made of pure gold. But through some misdeed or perhaps enchantment the city disappeared. It sank into the earth. Now it was known that the only way to bring that golden city back was for someone to play the most beautiful music at that site where it had disappeared.

Many famous musicians from far and wide came to play…but still the golden city lay hidden. Then, one day a young man was traveling to see if he could play his flute to bring the city to life. Along the way he met other men and women who brought their instruments – horns, drums, strings and brass. They traveled together to the site and the young flutist stepped forward to play, but then he stopped and asked his other fellow musicians to join him. Now the combined sounds of the instruments provided harmony, diversity, and dynamics…the ground began to tremble as the first orchestra emerged. And there before their eyes the city of gold once again rose to its full beauty.

I tell you this story because over the years at Belleville Junior College aka Belleville Area College aka SWIC…many young people came to drama choir with talents and a flair for the dramatic. It was Jack Stokes who mentored each voice to combine with the others to find harmony, diversity and dynamics. He was able to unify performers, set the tempo, execute clear and precise beats, and to listen critically and shape the sound of the ensembles. And it was there that we found our gold – our voice.

Many of the graduates of "Stokesian drama" went on to use that voice in their chosen fields – actors, musicians, writers, drama teachers, and yes… storytellers. Others went on to keep that creative spirit by acting in community theatre and other artistic venues. Whenever I meet my fellow Stokesian troupe – even though it has been some 45 years ago…most of us can still recite the words to many of Jack’s plays – The Hairy Man, Tailypo, Stakalee and The Last Days of Good Ole Bill. I think that is a true testament to the power of Jack’s words.

To conclude, I’d like to read a short poem I wrote to Jack. It’s his life as a drama choir director with his former students...

The Best Days of Good Old Jack… Please repeat – That was Jack…Good ole Jack

Now Jack was a man who did his best…his level best to teach his best…at old time West, That was Jack…Good ole Jack

Then he sold his shtick at a place called SWIC . That was Jack…Good ole Jack.

Now he gets in his car to spend an hour at the Mr. Softee Frostee BarThat's our Jack…good old Jack.

I was saddened to hear of the passing of my mentor, Jack Stokes in January, 2018. I was honored to give a speech about my short time with Jack in Drama Choir. It was a short time, but changed my life and the lives so many more...

Many thanks to Jack Stoke’s family for inviting me to say a few words.

Over the years people have asked me – "Where did you study drama?" I just smile and say "I’m a proud graduate of the Stoksian Theatre." It was our little joke at Belleville Junior College, 1966 – the year that Jack began teaching there.

Jack took a group of ragtag stage wannabes and molded us and cajoled us into a much sought after "Drama Choir." At first, our voices were unsure, but somehow, combined with others, we delighted in rhythms and cadence..."Now Bill was man that did his best, to keep the west…the old time west…alive long after it might have naturally died…that was Bill…good ole Bill."

Our voices became strong – humor, timing, harmony "Stakalee, Stakalee – ole Scratch is a waitin’ for you Stakalee.

Jack’s word crafting was at times silly… or sometimes downright scary…"Tailypo, I want my Tailypo"; and yes, sometimes poignant, full of deep pathos…"he done got chur pappy and he gonna get ye…Yesm!"

But it didn’t end after our 2 years with Jack. We took his love of words and carried them into our chosen professions. Many of his troupe became actors, directors, producers, writers, radio announcers, teller of tales, authors…and teachers…teachers who used his works in their classrooms – Jack always freely gave permission and often showed up at school performances. "Author! Author!"

And so we bid a fond farewell to the Bard of Belleville. You may be gone, Jack…but your words, your words… will continue to live in our hearts.

Jack Stokes              

Dr. Jack Tilden Stokes, 94, of Belleville, IL, died Monday, January 8, 2018, at St Paul's Senior Community in Belleville with family at his side. Jack was a well-known playwright, director, actor, and teacher. A man of many talents, Jack was a unique personality and gifted wordsmith who loved to play with words and incorporated his love of rhythm, rhyme, and music into his stories, plays, and performances.

The son of a coal miner and homemaker, Jack was born August 26, 1923, in Sullivan, IN, to Sherman Hayes Stokes and Elizabeth Jane Robbins. The oldest of three sons, Jack was raised in Sullivan and graduated from Sullivan High School in 1941.

Drafted by the United States Army in 1943, Jack served across the globe during World War II, including North Africa (with a long stint in Casablanca); Naples, Italy; and Salzburg, Austria, the birthplace of Mozart. He was present when the famous Salzburg Festival was re-born after having been shut down during the war. While in the service, he enjoyed memorable furloughs in Paris and London, which included a visit to Hyde Park, where (Jack said) you could always find someone standing on a soap box drawing an audience for his or her ideas. "Real democracy and freedom of speech," he wrote in a remembrance to his family.

After being honorably discharged in January 1946 as a Technical Sergeant, 4th Grade, Jack took advantage of the GI Bill of Rights and started his studies at Indiana State Teachers College in Terre Haute, IN, where he earned degrees in English and Social Studies. It was during this time that Jack met his future bride and life-mate, Bettie Mae Johnson, the young girl who lived across the street from him in Sullivan. They attended college together, married on May 1, 1948, and graduated together in 1950. Jack later earned a Master's in English from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D. in Speech and Theater from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He was awarded the William C. Ball English Prize at Indiana State and a fellowship at SIUC.

Jack was a veteran high school teacher and college professor, teaching English, literature, speech, and theater. Jack taught high school for one year at Basin, WY, and nine years at Oblong, IL. In 1961, Jack and Bettie moved to Belleville. He initially taught at both Belleville Township High School and Belleville Junior College (subsequently known as Belleville Area College and, now, Southwestern Illinois College), since at the time both were in the same school system. When the college separated from the high school, he taught exclusively for the college. Jack retired from Belleville Area College in 1989.

Jack is the author of numerous award-winning plays and pieces for both Readers Theater and Dramachoir. His work has been produced across the world--from St Louis to South Africa to Japan. As the founder of Southwestern Illinois College's Children's Theater Touring Company, his plays are well-known to a generation of local children and audiences. His works include Wiley and the Hairy Man, anthologized in the collection Plays Children Love; The Incredible Jungle Journey of Fenda Maria, anthologized in two collections - Contemporary Children's Theatre and Eight Plays for Youth; and Mama Medea, a one-act play which won first place honors at a national junior college contest in 1974 and is the basis of the movie Mama Medea, produced and directed by Dennis Vaughan. More recently, Jack was awarded the Illinois Theatre Association's Children's Theatre Award in 2001; and in 2011, a production of Wiley and the Hairy Man, performed by the County Seat Theater Company in Cloquet, MN, was selected to perform at the World Festival of Children's Performing Arts in Toyama, Japan, the United States' sole entry in the quadrennial, international event.

Following his retirement, Jack continued to create and perform volunteer work. He was active as a playwright, a performer in local theatrical productions, a volunteer with Retired Senior Volunteer Program, and (with his wife) a volunteer for the local chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. In his spare time, Jack loved to attend the theater and symphony, watch movies, and read. He was a loving husband, father, grandfather, and son. He was our hero and will be missed forever.

Jack was preceded in death by his wife, Bettie Mae (nee Johnson) Stokes in 2010; daughter, Tamara Gaye Stokes in 1997; grandson, John Scott Johnson in 1984; his father, Sherman Hayes Stokes in 1954; his mother, Elizabeth Jane (nee Robbins) Stokes in 2003; his brother, William (Jackie) Joseph Stokes in 1994; and his brother, Charles Robert (Josephine) Stokes in 1987.

Surviving are his daughter Deirdre Jan Stokes of Carbondale, IL, his son, Shaun Sherman Stokes of Belleville, IL, and his son, Jay T (Michelle) Stokes of Belleville, IL; four grandchildren, Aislinn Elizabeth Johnson of Carbondale, IL, Alexander Tilden (Tara Morton) Stokes of St Louis, MO, Jack Theophil Stokes of Belleville, IL, and Emily Mae Stokes of Belleville, IL; and several nieces and nephews across the country.

Memorials may be made to the Southwestern Illinois College Foundation in support of the Jack Stokes Legacy Scholarship. Gifts can be made to the scholarship online at thankyou.swic.edu. Condolences may be expressed to the family online at www.rennerfh.com.


I freely give use of my drama choirs to anyone who wishes to use it for non-monetary productions. I do want my name in the credits and would like for anyone using my work to tell me and to let me know how it went.

Right now I only have two scripts on line. I hope to add more in the future.