by Aaron Malkin, Literary Fellow
Although the closing of A Time to Kill, which marked the official end of Arena Stage's inaugural season at the Mead Center for American Theater, was less than a week ago, the literary office is already in full swing talking about how to engage and enrich next season's plays. Sub/Text has long been one of our main avenues of enrichment- our literary staff and volunteers research and write articles providing background information on the artist and the content of each of the pieces on our stages. In the past, the literary staff has generated the topics for the Sub/Text and then worked with the volunteer corps to research and write the articles. In our never ending attempt to more fully engage with the community, with this season we have opened up the process from the beginning, inviting our volunteers to be part of the initial conversation where we delve into the play to figure out what questions we, as a literary office, should be answering to better help our audiences understand the world they're entering (via Sub/Text, program notes, panels, etc.) and what questions we, as an institution, should be asking to continue conversation on the Metro ride home.
We had our first meeting to discuss Trouble in Mind and The Book Club Play last Thursday in the kitchen. We made a list of curiosities: What is Alice Childress' story? What was going on in the country? What were the experiences of black actors working in the 1950's? How were African Americans portrayed on stage and in film? One of our volunteers spoke beautifully about her experiences growing up during the Civil Rights era, putting a life to the stories many of us had only read about in history books. From this list of curiosities, we moved to a list of questions raised by the play. "Is change really possible?" somebody asked. "I know change is possible," someone else replied," the real question is how long will it take for change to happen?" This list grew quickly: What are the obstacles in getting art produced? What is more valuable: commercial viability or art? To what extent is it possible for someone to see beyond their own experience? Who has the right to tell a story? How does the play within a play contribute to what Childress is trying to say? With these questions it became quickly apparent how relevant Trouble in Mind remains, almost fifty years after Childress sat down to write the first draft.
I'll wrap this post up here and include our thoughts on The Book Club Play along with insights from a recent meeting with the playwright, Karen Zacarias, in my next post. If you know Trouble in Mind, feel free to write in with questions you want to ask and if you want to be a part of putting it all together, let us know!