Dialogue at Pillsbury House: Migration Explored Through the History of Seminole Creeks and African Americans

by Shannon Gibney
from the Pillsbury House Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Volume VIII. August-September 2013

On Friday, August 23, about 70 community members and artists gathered at Pillsbury House Theatre in South Minneapolis to discuss themes and questions around Marcus Gardley’s provocative new play the road weeps, the well runs dry, which opens next month. Even though rehearsals began just four days prior to the event, participants were also treated to stellar performances of select scenes from the play by local actors, interspersed throughout the discussion.

“We’ve never really taken the time to do this, time to share the rehearsal process while we’re in the middle of it,” said Pillsbury House Co-Artistic Director Faye Price. “I think this play is going to generate a lot of discussion in our community. It is one of the largest plays we’ve ever attempted at Pillsbury House Theatre. It’s also an historical play about a time that we don’t often visit in this country…or certainly not at this theater.”

Dr. David Chang, a professor of history at the University of Minnesota, gave a very enlightening explanation of the historical context of the Seminole/Creek Confederacy, as well as its vulnerability during the U.S. Civil War, which is at the center of the road weeps, the well runs dry. “The problem that both the Seminoles and Creeks faced was the same: the U.S. government,” he said, detailing the government’s forced displacement/migration of citizens of both nations, the chaos and horror of the Civil War, and the tremendous land grab that the government encouraged white settlers to take advantage of in this era.

Participants had many questions for Gardley, in particular, who was on hand from the east coast. Gardley’s artistic and collaborative process was one area of obvious interest for community members. “I did do a ton of historical research for this piece, and for the entire trilogy,” said Gardley, answering a question in this vein. “But I think it’s also important to tell my story even within that context of historical research, and to be clear that this is a work of fiction. So, I actually gave away all my books and research before I began writing.”

Gardley was also asked about the positive and negative reactions the play has received so far from Native communities around the country. He responded that, on the whole, they have received far more of the former than the latter, with a woman at one performance standing up and shouting, “Yes!” because she was so glad that this story was finally present in her community. But Gardley acknowledged that there is also a lot of intergenerational pain and buried loss associated with these still-as-yet untold histories and stories, even within his own family, so the process of healing associated with them may also be both unexpected and long.

the road weeps, the well runs dry opens on September 27, and runs through October 27.

Photo credit: Kelsye Gould

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