Sheppard plays role in 'North Texas Rising'

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The Sheppard Air Force Base Drum & Bugle Corps perform military service songs at a production of "North Texas Rising" at the Wichita Theatre in Wichita Falls, Texas. The original play shares the history of North Texas including that of Sheppard. Also pictured (left) is Eric West, 82nd Training Group operations chief. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

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From left to right, Jim Winters, 80th Operations Group, Eric West, 82nd Training Group, Jim Hall, Keith Pond, 80th OG, perform "Tumbling Tumbleweed" during "North Texas Rising", an original play that shares the history of the Wichita Falls area including Sheppard Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

The city of Wichita Falls, surrounding communities and Sheppard Air Force Base have enjoyed a relationship that spans more than 75 years.

Before that, it was Call Field in the early 1900s as a World War II pilot training installation.

It's hard to imagine, now, one not having the other as their respective histories are intertwined. Those stories and more are what makes up "North Texas Rising," a production at the Wichita Falls Theatre that captures the antiquity of North Texas.

"North Texas Rising" is an original production written by Ed and Karen Underwood specifically for the Wichita Theatre.

Eric West, 82nd Training Group operations chief, who serves as the show's narrator, said the play begins with a depiction of the Wichita Native Americans and ventures through the eras of ranching and agriculture; the legend of John Scott and his hand of poker that won the land that would later be Wichita Falls; the city that faith built; city fathers Joseph Kemp and Frank Kell; the oil boom; and the scam that brought about the Littlest Skyscraper.

The audience is introduced to the ventures of bank robbers and outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow; baseball fever with a couple of the historic teams that once called Wichita Falls home; the tornado of Terrible Tuesday; and a celebration of Sheppard AFB, formerly Sheppard Field.

"The fun part about this is people know these stories, but they still want to hear them and they still want to see it played out," West said. "... People from Sheppard who may or may not know about the Wichita Theatre, they don't know these stories. They may hear them here and there, but they don't know the history behind this town that they're living in."

But telling the history of Call Field and Sheppard isn't the end of the celebration. Actor Jim Hall performs "America the Beautiful", which is followed by a thundering roar of percussion and a procession of Airmen with the Sheppard Drum & Bugle Corps filing down the theater's aisles. Once on stage, the corps plays each service song in honor of the services and their veterans.

"When they come marching down the aisles, nobody knows they're marching down the aisles," West said, adding that the audience is trying to determine where the sound of drums is coming from. "The (sound) of drums is coming from the stage and nobody knows what's happening. ... I watch their faces and they start to realize, 'Oh my God. It's Airmen.'"

Dwayne Jackson, Wichita Theatre president and CEO, said "North Texas Rising" is the first original production for the theater. He said when the notion of having Sheppard Airmen participate in a portion of the play, it was an opportunity he couldn't pass on.

He said it's a "hair-raising experience" for those in the audience who aren't expected the corps. It's a time in the program when theater-goers realize that they are part of something special.

"This is the first time to have that kind of collaboration," Jackson said.

Remaining performances include:

• Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m.

• Oct. 28 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

• Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m.

• Nov. 4 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.