I met Inge Center director Peter Ellenstein several years ago, when we were both attending the Humana Festival in Louisville, Kentucky. I was receiving the Steinberg Award for "Song of Extinction," and he requested a copy. He liked it! And ever since, we've been communicating back and forth, trying to find a good time for me to come out to Kansas and do a residency.
The timing we finally decided upon couldn't have been better. I'd been having some trouble finding my way into part 2 of the epic play that "Magellanica" is proving itself to be. The prospect of working in depth with a director and a bunch of actors on the play for a focused week sounded like just the thing. And I'd never been to Kansas! I love seeing new places and meeting new people.
I flew directly from Oregon, where I'd been the Host Playwright for the Ashland New Plays Festival, to Tulsa, Oklahoma -- the nearest airport to little Independence, Kansas. Peter picked me up, and we drove the ninety minutes back to the small town where William Inge grew up.
I was the first to arrive; Peter allowed me to come early and stay on after our workshop week, in order to smooth my travel arrangements -- going from ANPF to Inge to HotCity in St. Louis, without having to schlep back to New Jersey between. Being the first to arrive meant I got to pick my room. I knew instantly which one I wanted: the first one I saw. It was at "the dark at the top of the stairs" -- with windows on three sides, looking down on the back yard and neighboring houses. I loved it!
|The beautiful Inge House in Independence, Kansas. What a place for a residency!|
|The sign by the front door. Historic house.|
On the first day of our workshop week together, we had table readings of both plays with everyone in attendance. The two casts would be working separately through the rest of the week, but it was nice to begin things as a single, cohesive group. Ken's play "The Correspondent" is a tight, three-character play about a man who is haunted by his past. My play, "Magellanica: A New and Accurate Map of the World" is a sprawling Antarctic adventure story, about a group of scientists wintering over at the South Pole station in 1985.
|Ellen and Laura by the Verdigris River. (Photo by Chuma Gault.)|
|The Verdigris River.|
|Fourth and Locust -- our street corner in Independence. All the leaves were golden, and we had beautiful crisp fall days while we were there.|
|Laura and I took a day trip out to the Laura Ingalls Wilder historic site. Such fun! We both read and loved all the books when we were kids. (Laura had to, since her name is Laura, after all...)|
|We gather around the table. Stephen, David, Heather, Mina and Mark at one of our big family-style dinners.|
There is nothing like some good table work with a smart director and cast. And it was fun to have my director, Laura, staying there in the house. Several times, I printed out pages and took them into her room, sitting on the end of her bed while she read them. Or she'd make tea for us, while I was working on rewrites. Actors came in and out. Sometimes they brought libations. It was a friendly, fruitful week. By then end of it, I'd figured my way into part two, posited a new structure for part two, and answered my structural questions about the play as a whole.
|My desk, in my room at the Inge House. I loved my room so much! It has windows on three sides, and was full of light and inspiration.|
It was awfully quiet in Independence after everyone else left. But I was happy to have some extra writing days before i left for my next gig in St. Louis. And I was able to make myself useful, teaching playwriting workshops at Independence High School, Labette County High School and Independence Community College. I also visited the William Inge collection at the college, where many of Inge's books, paper and memorabilia are housed.
Many thanks to the Inge Center's Peter Ellenstein, Hannah Joyce Hoven and Bruce Petersen for all their help during my residency, to my director, Laura Savia, for her excellent direction and dramaturgy, and to my splendid cast:
Chuma Gault as Captain Adam Burrell
David A. Lawrence as Freddie de la Rosa
Hannah Joyce Hoven as Dr. Morgan Halstead (USA)
Mark Pinter as Dr. Vadik Chapayev (USSR)
Mina Kim as Dr. May Zhou (USA)
Ben Corbett as Dr. William Huffington (Great Britain)
Peter Ellenstein as Dr. Lars Brotten (Norway)
Gary Mitchell as Dr. Todor Kozlek (Bulgaria)
Heather Alicia Simms - stage directions
|Magellanica reading at the Inge Center. From left to right: Heather, Peter, Gary, Hannah, Chuma, David, Mina, Peter and Ben. Directing: Laura Savia.|