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CATF to continue lecture series

By Staff | Jul 15, 2011

Photo courtesy of James McNeel

Playwrights from this year’s Contemporary American Theater Festival discussed travel, terrorism in early America and the “F-word” on Saturday, July 9 in Shepherd University’s Reynolds Hall.

The first of a four-week series of lectures, Saturday’s event was a question-and-answer session with three of the five playwrights whose work is being produced at this year’s festival. CATF Founder and Producing Director Ed Herendeen moderated the event, which was sponsored by the West Virginia Humanities Council.

Tracy Thorne, writer of “We Are Here;” Kyle Bradstreet, writer of “From Prague;” and Lucy Thurber, writer of “The Insurgents,” attended and answered questions from both Herendeen and the audience.

Herendeen introduced the playwrights and gave the audience a brief synopsis of each play. He laid a ground rule before the discussion began that absolutely no plot details should be given away so that audience members who had not seen the plays yet could still have the full experience.

Each playwright had a story about what inspired them to write his or her play for the CATF, and how the play moved from script to stage.

Thorne was inspired by a movie and a quote from Samuel Beckett about persevering when it seems better to give up. She said Beckett’s quote was the basis for “We Are Here.”

Thorne said that the play did not have many readings once it was written. It was produced on the Powerhouse Theater stage in New York and someone recommended it to Herendeen for the CATF.

“From Prague” is based on a trip to Prague in winter that Bradstreet went on a number of years ago. Bradstreet described Prague as “a creepy, eerie old city at that time of year.” Later, he wanted to write a play about a man who runs away after making a mistake.

“Where would he go? Where else? Prague,” Bradstreet said.

Bradstreet wanted to go to Prague for himself to follow in the footsteps of his literary heroes.

“I’m a die-hard fan of Hemingway and all of the other expatriate writers,” Bradstreet said.

When a professor told him that Prague in the 1990s was an expatriate art community similar to Paris in the 1920s, Bradstreet felt he had to go.

He held some readings at his apartment to get a feel for the play, and ended up cutting out some characters. The play was supposed to have five characters, but now has a cast of three characters.

Thurber calls herself “obsessed” with John Brown and wanted to find a way to write about her emotional reaction to his story.

“It always made me want to start a revolution,” Thurber said.

While reading a book about John Brown on the New York subway, Thurber struck up a conversation about a scene in the book with a young, black working-class man. When he started crying, Thurber realized that the sense of hopelessness and hope during that revolution still exists now.

Thurber was commissioned to write “The Insurgents” for the CATF, something she said is a rare occurrence in theater anymore.

“It’s very different when you write for commission,” Thurber said. “You know that it’s going to be produced, and it gives you a sense of urgency.”

In addition to the story of John Brown, Thurber’s play incorporates Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner and Timothy McVeigh. An audience member asked her about this controversial choice of characters.

Right away, Thurber said she does not support McVeigh’s bombing of Oklahoma City. Instead, she looks at him like the other characters in her play, as a revolutionary.

“America is a country made by terrorists. (During the American Revolution) we acted like terrorists,” Thurber said.

There was also a question from an audience member about the use of the “F-word” in contemporary American theater.

All of the playwrights agreed that it was a powerful word, and should be used with care. Bradstreet said he even went back over the script and cut some of the expletives out before production. Thurber said she used it to emulate the speaking style of working-class people. Only her modern characters and McVeigh use it, since frequent swearing is a more modern trend.

Upcoming discussions will be on Saturday, July 16; Saturday, July 23; and Saturday, July 30. All will be held at 4:30 p.m. in Reynolds Hall, 109 N. King St.