THERE IS A TOWN... by Thomas Putnam
I looked in the mirror a few weeks back and wondered who that was looking back at me. It was a strange and curious moment, almost an out-of-body moment. So I took a breath and found a whole lot of questions running through my brain. I've heard that in the moments one thinks are their last that their life to that point flashes before them. That's kind of what happened. Just who is and was this person?
Experiencing a play like Elephant's Graveyard is kind of like a community looking in the mirror. The story involves two distinct communities: a small town and a creative organization/circus. Who is this community? Is my community anything like either of these? We're a small town. HG is a creative organization. Can I see anything of Wellsboro in Erwin, Tennessee? Anything of HG in Sparks World Famous Circus?
A whole lot of questions come to mind when experiencing this play. What do we as a community remember? What do we choose to forget? What is the value of a person? Does that value differ between a person who is white and a person who is black? What is the value of an animal? What is the nature of justice? And who determines what is just? What are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of one dollar? Or 8000 dollars? Why do we feel a twinge of excitement at something tragic?
Remember the trial of Walter Goodwin? The photos of the day of his hanging just across the street from where we are sitting show a town full of dressed up folks eager to get a glimpse (through the knotholes of the erected fence) of the gallows. Are the people of Erwin much different from the people of Wellsboro?
Greek tragedy explored some pretty difficult subjects. The culture had known war for some time. The theory of catharsis explained just why this community gravitated towards such plays. The theory posits that catharsis is a “clarification of the essential and universal significance of the incidents depicted, leading to an enhanced understanding of the universal law which governs human life and destiny.” And so we return to Romeo and Juliet, The Laramie Project, Death of a Salesman, Of Mice and Men, The Great Gatsby, West Side Story, Angels in America, Shindler's List and so many more.
I chose to have the seating for this production on three sides, and to have the community enter the audience space. I thought about having reflective backdrops, but the action/words of the townspeople are reflective enough. You'll hear the words “There was a town...” As we look in the mirror of this production we realize “There IS a town...” and it is us.
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