Best town names on the way to Earlville:
On the road to Beertown, USA!
and my personal favorite,
Hi loyal readers, Jon Reynolds here. About 10 days ago the Beertown, USA ensemble got together for our first meeting. The energy and excitement in the room was electric! Or maybe that was just the three cups of coffee I had. In any case, there we were, bagels in hand, ready to get to work.
Our show is partly inspired by Winesburg, OH, Sherwood Anderson’s seminal novel of small town America (that I’d never heard of until now). At our first meeting, after getting some business and scheduling stuff out of the way, we talked at length about what “small town America” means. We made lists of themes we hope to incorporate. We discussed what imagery defines our ideas of small towns. We mulled over the kinds of experiences that can be unique to living far away from a big city, and we identified some of the archetypes that might populate this place we’re creating.
I actually found that discussion we had the first day kind of hard for me. I grew up right next to the nation’s capital and I’ve always thought of myself as being fairly urban. What do I know about small town America? But as I thought about it more, I realized how my little neighborhood in Alexandria was a pretty unusual place when I was growing up in the early 80’s. Back then Del Ray was far from the sheik and trendy little suburb that it is now. Sometimes it sure felt like a small southern town. I dimly remember that the people who lived across the street would sit out on their porch and drink till the wee hours, with shotguns by their side. Once, when they were drunk and having a particularly loud argument, my Dad called the police and told us to stay low until they arrived. Our next-door neighbor, Mr. Jones, was bitten by a black widow (or maybe it was a brown recluse) while he was rummaging through the woodpile once. He told us that the doctor said he would’ve died had he not drunk two quarts of moonshine earlier in the day.
But even then, the character of the place was changing fast. My parents were among the first of a new wave of families moving in. There were lots of academics like my parents, young civil servants, and NGO workers. Del Ray was the place where they could afford to live and raise a family. Pretty soon many of the folks who’d lived there for decades had moved away. New houses were built. New shops and restaurants opened. Property values went up, and the whole area started to feel a little more urbane.
I wonder now how it felt for my former neighbors to see the place they’d lived in for so long transformed so completely. It was a “nicer” neighborhood to be sure, but very different (and I’m sure more expensive) than the one they had known.
Changing. I think that’s the theme that I’m most interested in exploring with this show.
Every time I start work on a new show I always have a moment when I look around the room and I try and imagine where we’ll end up in two or three months when the show reaches the end of it’s run. I wonder how much my impressions of the people involved will be different. Most of all, how will I be different?
With Beertown we’re starting a process that will take fifteen months to complete! I can’t imagine where this road is going to lead, what I’m going to learn, or how it will change me, but I know it’s going to be one hell of a road trip.