Wednesday, August 24, 2016
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Includes the following plays:
Down in Our Hearts (2016)
Silly Poor Gospel (2016)
Mor I Xon (2013)
Bartram's Flower (2009)
Second First Day at the Interfaith (2008)
The Monster of Kanifloria (2007)
Good Tidings of Yule (2006)
Thou Heardest My Voice (2005)
The Turning Point (2004)
Quakers Rock the 17th Century (2004)
The Life and Times of Lucretia Mott (2001)
The Life and Times of John Woolman (1999)
The Story of Benjamin West, Quaker Artist(1998)
The White Feather (1997)
I'd like to collect background material on each of these plays, and I've decided to do that here, for a number of reasons. Most of the plays appear at this very site - at least the top ten (check the sidebar) - with the last four available at another site run by the meeting, at least as I write this. I'm a firm believer in personalizing each play that you use - that means printing it out, reading it carefully, eliminating parts for which you have no people, adding parts for extra people who want them, etc. For this purpose I'm going to try to format each play in printable form, though that may take a while. I have always made it clear that I'm happy that other people are using them, and I assume that includes the idea of altering them.
Here is the backstory of each play.
Down in Our Hearts (2016)- This one deals with the life of conscientious objectors in WWII, and is based on a very good book called "Down in My Heart" by William Stafford, who was not a Quaker, but could certainly sympathize with Quaker ideals. It took me many years to finish this one; I'm not sure why. I think that if you could be a conscientious objector in WWII, this would test your ability to not go kill people who, clearly, were up to no good. It's why I was attracted to the story. It was never performed; it was just written, and I don't, at the moment, have a meeting full of kids to do it. I would like to, though - please contact me if you think that would be possible.
Silly Poor Gospel (2016)- The life and times of Margaret Fell, wife of George Fox, who, by the way, would have turned 400 this year. A conference in Indiana wanted to honor her, and they actually asked me to write this one. I don't know, though, if they had the young people available to actually pull it off. So, I'm not sure whether it has ever been performed. Again, if it is, tell me!
Mor I Xon (2013)- This one is the true story of the survivors of Norman Morrison, the Quaker who immolated himself in front of the Pentagon, thus rattling Robert MacNamara, and having an influence on America's will to continue fighting an unpopular war. Because of the horrific true base of the story (suicide), I hesitate to push it on any group of teenagers, unless they are already dealing with the horrific after-effects of a suicide. Why put thoughts in people's heads? But, it's part of life, and if you're brave, and you really want to explore what suicide does to people, especially the ones left behind, this will help.
Bartram's Flower (2009)- John Bartram actually lived during the Revolution, and was way ahead of his time in terms of cataloguing the plants of the new world. He taught himself Latin so that he could master Linneus' system - but at the same time, he lived the life of a Quaker farmer in what is today Philadelphia. Interesting! We performed this one and really enjoyed it.
Second First Day at the Interfaith (2008)- This one explores the possibility that inanimate objects can have feelings, and in particular fear death and change. The building that our meeting occupied was endangered and, in fact, still is, even eight years after we performed this. How our meeting loved that building! I put the building on the cover of the book (along with Shinto Gate, a major character) partly as a tribute - I loved the building too. But it had problems. One day, during meeting, a rainstorm came and dripped actively through the roof and into the center of the meeting. This is a building that is due for some change, I think.
The Monster of Kanifloria (2007)- This one is based on a book, a simple tale, that was a favorite of one of our young performers. It was not explicitly Quaker, but was Quakerly enough in terms of its themes, etc. that it did just fine as a Quaker play. We performed it with very few children, and it went well.
Good Tidings of Yule (2006)- By 2006 I had a reputation in this small town, perhaps, and was asked by the Unitarians to write a Christmas play; this is what I produced. The Unitarians were much bigger in terms of number of children than the Quakers. Perhaps they didn't want to take on the theme of darkest, most remote Africa; in any case, they turned it down. I was disappointed. It has never been performed. Perhaps it's inappropriate, or not politically correct. To me, though, with plenty of knowledge of Africa and no fear, it's just a play: anyone can, indeed, live through a Christmas drama, and not even know it.
Thou Heardest My Voice (2005)- This one is a combination of the Iraqi war and the story of Jonah and the Whale. It is based partly on a true story of a soldier who disappeared - but it's also partly based on the fact that both the war and the story of Jonah shared the same geography. We performed it successfully.
The Turning Point (2004)- True story of the bombing of Sterling Hall, University of Wisconsin, in 1970. The kids had a blast with this one, because they could dress up like hippies and talk like them too. I just kept getting more fascinated by the story, even after we performed it, and started gathering books about it and reading them, really more after we'd performed it. Of the four boys who were responsible, two were Armstrongs (I'd actually met their father), one was a Quaker (I didn't know it when I wrote it), and the last one disappeared forever - he is probably living under an assumed name, somewhere in Canada, and has been for forty-five years. I read so much about it that I almost wrote a non-fiction book, but the last book I read was essentially the one I would have written, so I gave that up. My dilemma, when compiling these plays, was whether to alter this one to reflect my new knowledge. I chose not to, and included the play everyone will remember performing.
Quakers Rock the 17th Century (2004)- When we decided we needed to learn more about George Fox, this is what we did. It's all about George Fox, and Penn, and the King, and all those characters in that rich and lively time. We had a blast with this one too. It was perhaps the best of our theatrical performances, because people actually memorized a fair amount of 17th-century speech, and this crowd of performers did a pretty good job of it; they were just graduating from high school. Looking back, I consider it good luck to have that convergence of dramatic talent, good lines, interesting topic, and yet, you are immersed in problems that are three hundred years gone! Made me happy.
The Life and Times of Lucretia Mott (2001)- What I remember about this one was that, having performed it in southern Illinois to an audience of mostly the kids' parents, friends, and neighbors, we actually took the play up to St. Louis and performed it in the city! The old-timers in that meeting were really stirred up. Lucretia Mott was a very strong character, and we got that down in the play; we had good performers, and we brought her era alive. They came up to us afterwards and discussed the particulars of the play - the depth of awareness of Quaker history is really quite good, in a meeting like theirs. It was impressive.
The Life and Times of John Woolman (1999)- In these early days, you have Native Americans saying things such as "ugh" - which might not be politically correct today. But hey, you had this guy walking the Americas, refusing to wear indigo, getting Quakers to reject slavery, and walking right into Native American tepees. This is what happened! As I said, feel free to revise it; times change, and you might not be able to pull it off today.
The Story of Benjamin West, Quaker Artist(1998)- He also lived in colonial times, and was asked to meet the King, and did as Quakers do - he treated the King with the same respect he treated everyone. Scandalous! But he also was a talented realist artist - we had a picture of his, in our First-Day room, and that's why we learned about him.
The White Feather (1997)- The first one we did - genius, and inspired, yet simple, as our children were young then. This is such a classic story, that children should know it, and the theory behind Drama as Education is that if you give them parts, by which they can feel that fear, and relief, then they will know it better. I wish I could test whether those young children internalized any of this.
Before I did this, I worried about how we Quakers (our meeting had perhaps five) were to educate our children. I knew that there were many methods of religious education. I knew that drama was effective in other areas of education. I wrote the plays and we all performed them; if you were one of the performers, I'll gladly give you one of these books, so that you can remember. Beyond that, I'm curious about how the plays did teach you, or if they did at all. So perhaps you can tell me - would you recommend this as a method? If so, there are dozens more I could write.