The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII
46 Baker, Bush, Harvey, House, Mitchell, Parson, & Shelby
I also write plays for the main stage. But I get to write plays for the children of Appalachia. They will be served by my words, and that’s the greatest thing I get to do. That’s the greatest gift I have been given by this community, by Katie Brown and the Barter Players, and by Rick Rose for hiring me and continuing to employ me by commissioning work. It is a great honor, and I don’t take that lightly. For any of you who are inspired to be a playwright, please keep that in mind. It will help you; it will remove your ego from your work. It’s not about what I wrote or my words being precious. What’s important is that the story is told, and the audience is served. At that point, it just allows you more collaboration; and I think anyone who’s a playwright has found that to be true. When you’re in the room with actors, designers, directors, musicians, musical directors, lighting designers, and sound designers, when you all can collaborate to create that and have that one goal in mind, your work will be better and your life will be infinitely better. You probably won’t make much money doing it, so you’ve got to have something. Keep changing the world. DB: Let me start with the way I began a performance of a play I had something to do with writing forty years ago: You know old pictures like these are always kind of brown and faded. And sometimes it seems like them old people theirselves must have walked around in a brown, faded world, don’t it? But when you listen to them talk about the way things used to be, sit back, and hear them spin them old yarns, slowly weave them threads out, they’ll weave a story for you about a time full of color. (Baker and Cocke) As a side note, I do have to say that I have doubts about the validity of my being on this panel. In the first place, since my experience of playwriting and performance in Appalachia certainly is not today, but the dark ages. In the second place, I know my mother, the English teacher, who spent the entire early years of my life correcting my grammar, cringed to hear me butcher the king’s English. Those two thoughts really don’t follow one another, but they’ll help me make a point later. Those opening sentences of Red Fox/Second Hangin’ which I started with, grammarians and Mother take note, encapsulate and speak to nearly everything I know and have to say about our topic today. In the spirit of full disclosure, I need to say that I am a Brechtian. I believe that all theatre should be political and an agent for social change. It should rally people to conscience and action and issues. I think the best
that happens. You can tell me. I don’t think it does. I’ve not been here long enough. I always write about the outsider; and, as you’ll see tonight, there’s a character named O’Malley who comes into the world of Mud Creek, Kentucky, and her experiences were very similar to my first experiences going into that part of the world. That’s my journey to playwriting. That’s my journey to getting here to Abingdon, the Barter, et cetera. When I started writing, it was not because I thought words were noble. It was not because I thought acting was noble. When I went into theatre at first, it was because I loved applause. I’m a Leo; I admit it. I loved the idea; and it seemed like fun; and it seemed like hanging out in the world of theatre was just so great. What I did not understand and what I think is most important to understand, which I’m sure these actual scholars do understand, is that playwriting is about service, service to our audience. Our audience is the most important thing in the room. It is not the words I write. It is not how the actors say them. It is towards serving our audience—engaging them, evoking their imagination, inspiring them to change the world—whether that’s by making them laugh, making them angry, creating conversation, or by giving them hope. I write a lot of plays at Barter for the Barter Players, which is a non-equity branch of the Barter Theatre. They go out to the coal fields. Their mission is to serve the children of Appalachia. Of all the jobs I do at Barter, that is my favorite and the one that has taught me the most about playwriting. Kids do not have any patience for extra. If you aren’t actively engaging them, they will let you know. They will be restless. Watching kids at the first run of your play, you’re like, “Wow, that didn’t work. Cut, cut, cut, cut. Make it active, make it active, make it active.” Playwriting is all about action. It is not about reflection; that is what novel writing is about. Our job is not to tell the audience who characters are but to show the audience what characters want. That’s the big difference. And I didn’t make that up; Aaron Sorkin said that (qtd. in Powers). There are so many kids who don’t have anything in their life but hope. What playwrighting for children allows me to do is to bring them into a world where they are allowed to imagine, to create, and to feed their souls because they’re going to go home and not get anything to eat. What I get to do at Barter is to expose them to a world that exists outside of their perhaps not-too-happy circumstances, or even if they have a great life, to inspire them to make it even better for other people, to create empathy.
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