As I sit down to write this to you, Technically Talking for Fences has just wrapped up in the theater downstairs. If you’ve never attended one of our Tuesday preview talk backs, I encourage you to stop by some time and meet the talented designers who create the world of the play.
The designers are not just sticking around till opening for a talk back. They’re all looking for ways to make things better. Previews are in many ways the most collaborative part of the process. The entire team is on deck, engaged and working together. This work together may be as simple as noticing a picture hanging crooked on a wall or as complicated as recognizing a costume or a sound cue needs to change. But the nature of the work is never just about their particular areas of expertise. By the time we are in previews, we’re all engaged in the common pursuit of telling the story the best that we can.
I’ve been thinking a lot about story recently. I’m embarking on a new writing project, and in between delving in to American history and current events for research, the characters and their actions and objectives are taking shape. It is an exciting time for me as a writer, because I have a plethora of possible stories and I get to indulge in each one of them. Many get discarded, others get put aside, and one ultimately becomes the story that becomes the play.
The stories that don’t get discarded are the stories that allows me to spend time with someone I would never otherwise know and in coming to know them, to learn something new about myself and my way in the world. I think good story doesn’t ask us to judge and frequently seeks to upset the apple cart of our conceptions of people, places and things. I also suspect that good storytelling gives us the freedom to discover and make up our own minds.
I believe that story builds community. Story transforms community. When we share the stories of those who may seem different than us, we enable ourselves to imagine the worth of all people. Story strengthens our community and our state by recognizing the intrinsic worth of each individual.
I’ve been asked a lot about how I feel about Bruce Springsteen cancelling his concert or the composer Stephen Schwartz refusing to permit his work to be performed in North Carolina. I think folks want me to either praise or condemn them. I don’t know that it’s my place to do either. I only know what I would do.
There’s a line I wrote years ago in a play called Brother Wolf that sums up my thoughts on how best to respond to moments of turmoil. The mother tells her frightened son: “Well. The way you got to do it is this. When you got a trouble, you tell a tale.”
I’m pretty much determined that for me the best course of action when things get bad is to keep following that motherly advice.
As a writer, I tell my own stories. I’m a product of the western part of this state and have lived in the Piedmont for a right long while now. So the people I know best are mountain folk and the grandchildren of mountain folk who came east looking for jobs. And yet I don’t just write about people I know. My imagination allows me to create the lives of others. And as a director I get to tell the stories of any number of people seemingly radically different than me — a 19th century Norwegian wife who wants to be her own person, a renaissance French orphan who falls in love with a nobleman, a mid-century African American actress who refuses to give up her truth, a dying patriarch in the Mississippi Delta. And as a producer I get to be a part of telling such wonderful stories as August Wilson crafts in Fences. On the surface, what do I have in common with a black garbage collector from the Hill District in Pittsburgh in the late 1950s? The glory of story is that — if we listen — we realize we have much to learn from every life we meet in story. And, if that’s true, is it so odd to imagine that we have much to learn from real people who seem initially to be so different?
I believe that making theater is a quest to honor the incredible and unique diversity of our community. Our stories, the people who tell our stories and the people who sit in the audience to experience our stories should reflect that diversity. I don’t always succeed but I am committed to continuing to make our stories represent our city, our state, our nation and our world.
I hope Triad Stage’s stories will continue to surprise you.
Triad Stage Founding Artistic Director