Join us for this year’s play!
Friday at 7pm, and Saturday at 2pm & 7pm
Step back to the hot summer of 1925 when “a little case” caught the attention of the world.
The Scopes Trial: Destiny in Dayton re-tells the story of a Rhea County High School teacher who was charged with violating a new law that prohibited teaching Darwin’s theory of human evolution in public schools.
Watch as the jury is chosen (maybe there’s a seat for YOU) and listen as the lawyers argue about what teachers should teach, whether parents should have a say in their children’s education, and whether the majority really rules.
Taken directly from the trial transcript, the words of William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow, Tom Stewart – and even John Scopes – ring again in the courtroom where the trial took place.
You’ve heard about it – even seen some of these arguments on the nightly news – now “Let’s All Go to the Scopes Trial” play and see what started the arguments we are still having today!
See the real story of the trial that put Dayton on the map. Come early, and you might even have a chance to serve on the jury!
Destiny in Dayton is produced by the Rhea Heritage Preservation Foundation as part of the Scopes Festival July 14-15, 2023, with major financial support from the Tennessee Arts Commission, the City of Dayton, and Rhea County.
65 years, three-time candidate for president, former member of Congress, Secretary of State for President Woodrow Wilson, popular orator, leading advocate for “fundamentalist” Christianity, political “progressive.” From Florida
68, America’s premier defense attorney, prominent labor lawyer, champion of the “underdog,” political progressive and former political ally of William Jennings Bryan, noted religious agnostic. From Chicago.
44, civil rights attorney, co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, a Jew. From New York
33, district attorney general for the 18th judicial district, lead counsel for the prosecution. From Winchester, TN
43, attorney, liberal activist, undersecretary of state for William Jennings Bryan. From New York.
49, noted constitutional lawyer, former law professor at University of Tennessee and dean of his own law school; formal lead defense counsel. From Spring city, TN
29, policeman from Chattanooga, hired for the Scopes case and appointed bailiff by Judge Raulston.
57, circuit court judge for the 18th judicial district, elected in 1918, and a candidate for re-election in 2026. From South Pittsburg, Tennessee.
59, attorney for the prosecution, former district attorney general, father of J. G. McKenzie. From Dayton.
attorney for the prosecution, son of Ben McKenzie, county judge (county mayor). From Dayton.
4, lived across Third Avenue from the courthouse, selected by the sheriff to draw names for the jury.
45, Rhea County superintendent of schools, a former state representative. From Graysville, Tennessee.
14, a student of John Scopes. From Dayton.
44, proprietor of Robinson’s Drug Store, chairman of the Rhea County school board, correspondent for several Tennessee newspapers. From Dayton.
57, zoologist, professor and research scientist. From Baltimore, Maryland.
School teacher, coach. From Paducah, Kentucky and previously lived in Salem, Illinois (William Jennings Bryan’s home town).
J.P. Massengill, J.H. Harrison, R.L. Gentry, W.P. Ferguson, J.S. Wright, W.F. Roberson
Ages vary from 30s to 60s, farmers, merchants, teachers. From Rhea County.
Located at the Rhea County Courthouse
In the late 1988, an independent writer/producer visited Dayton with the idea of producing the play Inherit the Wind in the Rhea County Courthouse, scene of the 1925 Scopes Evolution Trial.
Frank Chapin was directed to Bryan College, where he met with Dr. Richard Cornelius, a student of the trial and William Jennings Bryan, who persuaded Chapin to try something new. Inherit, the classic play and movie, had been presented numerous times in the courthouse; instead, Dr. Cornelius suggested Chapin read the trial transcript and dramatize that. He did, and that July he directed The Scopes Trial: Destiny in Dayton, which included a number of descendants of trial participants in the cast.
The next year a festival was added, in an effort to recapture something of the circus atmosphere which surrounded the trial. Each year since (except for a year with casting problems and another because of COVID) the Scopes Festival has helped Rhea County remember its most famous court case.
In 2016, the Rhea Heritage Preservation Foundation was formed and took on the production and preservation of the Festival and Play.
A volunteer cast and crew each year brings to life the personalities including William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow, District Attorney Tom Stewart, Judge John Raulston and other “characters” who captured the attention of the world with this trial in 1925.
Over the years, five different scripts have been presented: Destiny in Dayton, Monkey in the Middle, One Hot Summer, Front Page News and How It Started, all different interpretations of the trial and the surrounding story. The underlying commitment for each has been the Foundation’s insistence that the script be historically accurate. Unlike other plays or movies, the Scopes Festival plays must follow the facts of the case.
Of course, we sometimes are asked “Why didn’t you include…” in the play? The answer is simple: we have tried to summarize a trial which lasted eight days in a two-hour play, and we can’t get it all in. But if you really want to know the whole story, the trial transcript is for sale in the Scopes Trial museum.
We invite you to join us the third weekend of July for the Scopes Festival, and the Play about the case which put Dayton on the map.
Casting calls are open now! Check back later to see 2023 cast assignments!
We may think today’s public debates over who controls what is taught in schools is a new question, but that was one of the key arguments during the 1925 Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee. The right of teachers to teach what they believe to be true, of students to hear more than one side of an issue, whether majorities set the rules or if minorities can object to those rules – and, oh, yes – science and religion, all played a part in the famous trial in 1925.
Over the years the Scopes Festival has produced a number of dramatic recreations of the that case in the courtroom where the trial was held. One of our most ambitious projects was Front Page News, created in conjunction with the Cumberland County Playhouse.
Jim Crabtree, then producing director of the Playhouse, in conjunction with his wife, Ann, and musician Bobby Taylor, developed Front Page News, a play with music, based on the play of the same name by Deborah DeGeorge Harbin. The video was filmed by Public Television station WCTE of Cookeville, Tennessee, and originally aired on that station
Front Page News is a dramatization of the Scopes Trial, which pitted three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, a leading spokesman for evangelical Christianity, against Clarence Darrow, arguably the era’s premiere defense attorney – and an outspoken agnostic – in the cast of a Rhea County teacher charged with violating Tennessee’s new anti-evolution law.
The play begins with Dayton leaders discussing the plan to test the law, depicts how John Scopes was recruited to be the defendant, how Bryan and Darrow entered the case, and captures the world-wide media interest that focused on Dayton, Tennessee, that hot summer of 1925. With dialogue taken from the trial transcript and other historical records, viewers will get a glimpse of the case and the media circus which surrounded it.