Writer, editor, and James River Writers member Kris Spisak shares her experiences concerning the decision to write family stories – or not.
The room was filled with dolls in costume–vibrant red skirts with hand-stitched needlework, peasant blouses, silk-flower wreathes tied into their stiff plastic hair. They stood on pedestals, shelves, and every table. Tiny shoes rested on the newly waxed floor. Blue and yellow Ukrainian flags were clutched in rigid hands.
Who was I to judge an old woman whose childhood friends were killed in war? Who was I to tell her story–to steal her eccentricities–for the sake of a page-turning plot?
Some could argue that fiction writers have it easy. No imagined characters will cry at their exposure; no antagonists will cringe at their depictions on the page. What should a writer do when they have a story that’s not just their own? Should they stay silent out of respect? Tell all? Wait until the characters are dead?
The dolls’ painted eyes met mine as I walked in the door. This wasn’t just one woman’s story. It was the story of a generation–of a group of friends, my grandparents among them. These were the women who discovered a friend’s death by finding her swinging from a tree. These were the men who watched their friends’ blood spilled as they stood by their sides. A girl turned bride. A divinity student turned soldier. A cousin turned spy.
If it was fiction, it would be easy. “Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.” No harm, no foul, no libel that brings you to court.
Some families toast with wine. Others toast with homemade honey liqueur. Some families have scandals. Others have murders that shouldn’t be discussed away from the home where that honey liqueur is being served. A drink for each of the twelve apostles. Ukrainian women can hold their alcohol, you know. That’s what I’ve always been told–reminded between courses of borscht and varenyky. But that’s probably not a tale I should tell. Or is it? Maybe later.
I’m usually not one to shy away from a good story, but the freedom of fiction can be so much more appealing. Write what you know plus a safety net of imagination. No one will know the inspiration from your own family. No one will guess the character’s origin in your own blood.
The room smelled of sautéed onions, sausage, and boiled beets, a combination I can recall at a moment’s notice. Singing filled the air, and my hands were clutched to join my grandmother in dance. Her voice was steady, proud, and strong. She sang along, even when she was unsure of the tune.
There was the house full of dolls and the house of ticking clocks, the house full of crosses and the house full of dust. But there was always love. And for that, I cannot write their stories. Not in full. Not to share. Maybe someday. But not yet. Today, I work in fiction.
Other Desert Cities, opening this Friday at the November Theatre, explores the fallout when Brooke Wyeth reveals her plan to publish a tell-all memoir about her politically influential family.
Auditions for Sight Unseen and A Lie of the Mind will be held Saturday, April 5, 2014 from 1-3 pm. Those auditioning for Caroline, or Change will audition from 3-6pm. Auditions are by appointment only and will be held at the November Theatre at 114 W Broad St., Richmond, VA 23220
Those auditioning for Sight Unseen and A Lie of the Mind are asked to prepare dramatic monologue that does not exceed one minute.
Those auditioning for Caroline, or Change are asked to prepare 32 bars of a musical theatre song. An accompanist will be provided.
Please e-mail email@example.com to request an audition date and time. Please specify whether you are interested in the plays or musical. Those wishing to audition for both the plays and musical will need two appointments. No telephone calls, please. Emails will be returned within 24 hours.
All performers will be paid.
Richmond theatre should be proud. Here, as in all great American theatre cities, most of the acting, directing, design and stage management positions are filled by local professionals who often stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the greatest theatre artists in our nation. Despite the mid-size of our metro area, we’re no longer a city that defines excellence as what’s brought in from out-of-town.
At Virginia Rep, we fill approximately 80% of our theatre artist positions with Virginia professionals, and, when the right person cannot be found locally, 20% with theatre artists who work nationally from a base in a major market. In recent years I’ve had the opportunity to work with a significant number of “New York” actors. As anyone with any sense will tell you, actors who work out of New York are basically no different from any other actor. After all, 95% of them originally came from somewhere else.
But they do have a perspective that’s unique. Most of them have a wealth of experience in professional theatres large and small throughout not only the Big Apple but also the nation. All of them whom I’ve met, without exception, have come to Virginia and quickly commented on what a great theatre community they find here.
Locally, you hear theatre artists grouse about this shortcoming or that disappointment with regard to theatre opportunities, practices, and/or professional standards in Central Virginia. This constant desire for improvement is the nature of the beast, and it’s a good thing. Artists in general are designed to challenge, refusing to settle for the status quo. I like to think I’m that way myself.
But it feels good when the actors from New York consistently are startled by the quality of what they find here, not just at Virginia Rep but at theatres around town. Ultimately, it makes you ask yourself the question. What is it that has transformed our home city into one of the most successful mid-sized theatre cities in the nation?
It’s not public funding. The Commonwealth of Virginia, the City of Richmond and the surrounding counties all fall near the bottom of the lists that chronicle state and municipal financial support for the arts. Many people are working hard to change that obstacle to sustainability of our cultural organizations. Thankfully, we have several significant private funders of nonprofit professional theatre, and their ranks are growing. But public funding here is well below what many other communities have found to be sound business practice.
I think the major causal factors contributing to Richmond’s success as a theatre city include our history, the commitment of and job opportunities provided by individual nonprofit theatres and theatre leaders, Central Virginia’s thriving advertising and film communities, and VCU.
U of R, Virginia Union, Randolph Macon, W & M, Longwood, UVA and other institutes of higher learning within an hour’s drive of our fair capital have certainly done their bit to fill the ranks of outstanding theatre artists currently working in metro Richmond’s professional theatres. But the impact of VCU’s theatre faculty and alum almost certainly exceeds the impact of these other universities by a multiple of ten.
TheatreVCU is a major contributor not only to professional theatre in Central Virginia but also across the nation. With a faculty including acclaimed talents like David Leong, Aaron Anderson, Noreen Barnes, Bonnie McCoy, Michelle Anderson, Barry Bell, Brian Barker, Bonnie Brady, Wesley Broulik, Glynn Brannan, Maura Cravey, Patti D’Beck, Christian DeAngelis, Toni-Leslie James, Ron Keller, Shaun McCracken, Kevin McGranahan, Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, Neno Russell, Susan Schuld, David Emerson Toney and Al Williamson, VCU offers BA/BFA degrees in Performance, Scenic Design/Tech, Costume Design/Tech, Lighting Design/Tech and Stage Management, and MFAs in Theatre Pedagogy and Design/Tech.
For well over a decade, Virginia Rep has been proud to partner with VCU in multiple areas. Faculty members Kenneth Campbell, Patti D’Beck, Gary Hopper and Tawnya Pettiford-Wates have directed for our Signature Season, while Brian Barker, Maura Cravey, Liz Hopper, Ron Keller, Robert Perry and Lou Szari have designed for our various stages. Grad and undergrad student designers have created the sets for dozens of our shows over the years. And rare is the Virginia Rep production that doesn’t feature the talents of at least one VCU actor, stage manager or technician.
As Virginia Rep continues to grow toward our goal of becoming a regional theatre of national standing, we look forward to increasing our professional partnership with the exceptional theatre program at VCU.
Story by P.D. Eastman
Adapted by Allison Gregory and Stephen Dietz
Music by Michael Koerner
Direction by Sarah Roquemore
Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org request an audition date and time.
Auditions will be held Sunday, March 30 6:00-9:00 p.m. Auditions are by appointment only and will be held at Virginia Rep’s Willow Lawn location, 1601 Willow Lawn Dr., Richmond, VA 23230.
Rehearsals will begin on or around: June 16, 2014
Performance Dates: July 11 – August 3, 2014 (Detailed performance schedule available by contacting email@example.com)
Go, Dog. Go! is a high-energy, imaginative, ensemble-based play with music. The script’s only words come from P.D. Eastman’s simple early-reader book, so the bulk of the play’s action occurs in silence or to music, nodding to silent film, slapstick comedy and circus performance as actors bring images from the pages of the book to vibrant life onstage.
Those auditioning are asked to prepare a short (1-2 minutes) dramatic reading of a children’s book, poem, or nursery rhyme and 16 bars of a song. Please bring sheet music in the appropriate key. An accompanist will be provided.
All performers will be paid. Non-union only.
Seeking strong ensemble actors with experience in physical comedy, pantomime, clowning, or improv to play the following roles:
MC DOG/LATECOMER: male, the play’s unwitting protagonist, strong physical/comedic actor.
RED DOG: male or female, strong physical/comedic actor
BLUE DOG: male or female, strong physical/comedic actor
YELLOW DOG: male or female, strong physical/comedic actor
GREEN DOG: male or female, strong physical/comedic actor
HATTIE/SPOTTED DOG: female, jazz singer, looks fabulous in all matter of hats.