Tabor Teacher’s play to be performed in May

Apr 20, 2021

MARION — Tabor Academy teacher John Heavey would surely have been drafted in the Vietnam War, if he wasn’t a student at Johns Hopkins at the time.

Heavey said he’s always been “struck by the injustice of the draft.” He noted that people of color who weren’t able to go to college were often the first to be drafted in the war.

“Off you went,” he said.

The teacher, playwright and former baseball coach had a low draft number in 1970, and the army was calling him regularly to ensure he was still enrolled. His enrollment at Johns Hopkins let him defer from the draft, and by the time he graduated, the war was over.

But some of the people he knew weren’t as lucky.

“It was one of those things that really stuck with me,” he said.

Years later, Heavey wrote two plays to do with the war. One, “LZ Bravo,” which was first performed in 2001, will resurface on May 13 for a performance at Town Wharf as part of South Coast Spring Arts.

The play is a collection of accounts from the war, performed by actors, and framed by a narrator.

Heavey’s other Vietnam-centered play, “Able Not,” uses a similar structure, but Heavey said it isn’t as “wide in scope” as “LZ Bravo.”

Heavey’s interest in primary accounts as material for theatre continued with “Doing Time,” a play centering around the writings and experiences of prison inmates.

Heavey started a writing workshop for inmates in 2017 at Barnstable County jail. Prisoners were able to submit their writing to Pen America, an organization which gives out annual awards for imprisoned writers.

“It was a gold mine of stuff,” Heavey said.

He used the material from the writer’s workshop, Pen America, and some accounts from Ear Hustle, a podcast out of San Quentin State Prison in California to write a play, performed by Tabor Academy students.

“Doing Time” was first performed in Tabor’s Black Box. Later, it was performed in England as part of Tabor’s drama exchange with a school there.

During the initial production back in Marion, though, Heavey took the cast of “Doing Time'' to Barnstable County Jail. There, Tabor Students got to see some of the reality of the roles they’d be portraying.

“So it was a really gratifying experience to do with the kids.”

Heavey is both a Drama and English teacher at Tabor, and he tends to use the material and subject matter of his plays as teaching tools in the classroom.

He’s even taught a course on literature and film about the war.

“I always find that kids are very fascinated with the war,” he said.

He’s also had Vietnamese students, who’ve told him that there, the war is taught as “the War of American Aggression.”

But Heavey’s plan wasn’t always to be a teacher and playwright. After graduating from Johns Hopkins, he set out to be an actor.

He said that auditions for community theatre in the D.C. area were “super competitive,” and soon, Heavey found that the “lifestyle wasn’t for me.”

“Job security meant more to me than chasing that.”

So Heavey started teaching and writing plays, and has continued for 44 years.

Even though acting never panned out for Heavey, he said some of his students at Tabor have gone on to schools like Syracuse University and NYU. Some have become voice actors, producers, and teachers.

And every once in a while, he still acts in community plays, which he said are just as satisfying as professional productions.

Heavy will put on another production of “LZ Bravo” on May 13 as part of the Marion Art Center’s South Coast Spring Arts festival. To get tickets, go to