Writing plays about local events

image What do you do after the stories have been recorded? This WaPo story about the Virginia Stage Company, who produces one play a year on a local theme. They develop or adapt the play with material emerges from community dialog. The current production, A Line in the Sand, is about a civil rights struggle fifty years ago as the local community grappled over the question, Will we prevent our schools from being racially integrated? The story hit my radar since the production from two years ago used oral histories from local people who took care of elders to adapt Shakespeare’s King Lear.

This news feature reminds me of the power of the story brought home, and my own sense of wonder at reading or hearing a story that has something to do with me, as opposed to the story that concerns some other person in some other life, whether the ancient Greeks, the renaissance, or some other strata of this society that I don’t belong to.

Those stories of Odysseus, Michelangelo, Galileo, Lincoln are all well and good, but I respond to stories where I can relate… seriously. I remember laughing uproariously at the scene in Adaptation where the voiceover of the screenwriter recites his internal monologue “I need to write something. Oh, I can’t think right now. Should I eat a muffin?” because I’ve lived that moment many times and was delighted to see it portrayed so well. (YMMV for which particular story reaches out and grabs you) There are stories that take you far out of your own experience, and other stories that hew closely to what you know. 

The playwright for A Line In The Sand drew on historical documents and newspaper accounts to craft the story. A previous production drew on oral history. Whatever tools to elicit or illuminate the story at the heart of the play, they draw out that something to do with me and elevate it to the community level. The play has something, well, everything to do with us.

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on March 03, 2009 in • Archiving
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