I have a virtual stickie note on my laptop of performance ideas. It has been there for years. It’s not long — maybe 5 or 6 things. A few things get added or subtracted each year. Some things are actually realized and created, which is the best part of having a theatre company. A few things have stuck for a long time. The longest one has been there since 1995. I’m going to do that one—I think it’s coming soon even. It’s an odd little albatross I carry. It will probably be my masterpiece if I ever make it.
But Winesburg, Ohio arrived on the list relatively recently. It is a book I had forgotten about. Every once in a while I browse the Project Gutenberg site to see what books I can download for free. Winesburg showed up on the available list one day and I was immediately drawn to it. I first read it in my mid-twenties and loved it and then didn’t think about it again. That happened a lot in graduate school. I was reading so many things at that time and non-theatre books were very low priority. In my twenties I think I reveled in Sherwood Anderson’s scathing exposure of the secrets of small town life. Growing up in the quintessential New England small town felt suffocating and restrictive and here was this anti-Our Town that wasn’t this drab grey picture of my hometown. I was drawn to the anti-anything at that time though. The structure of the book fascinates me the most. All of these disconnected stories and characters reveal common threads and land on the character of George Willard. Looking out at his town, he sees, “as though they marched in procession before him, the countless figures of men who before his time have come out of nothingness into the world, lived their lives and again disappeared into nothingness.”
So I read Winesburg, Ohio again about a year ago. Re-reading books in a later phase of life always brings that fascinating new perspective. Now, of course, I look back fondly on quaint community life and long for that same feeling of belonging that is so hard to find in this city. Now, the book reminds me of my history (now that I have one) and how I create my history or the myth of myself. So in this initial work for ”Beertown,” we have landed on this question: where and what is the overlap between the myth of self and the myth of place? Each myth is inextricably tied to the other.
This struggle of a small town girl living in a big city has been with me most of my life. In this summer’s dog & pony dc show, ”Separated at Birth,” we investigated what it means to find a connection in this city. We are always hoping to find something current, alive and tangible. “Beertown” is more about the past. It’s still about connections, but about how we connect with the ghosts of where we are from, and how that creates who we are now.