The Road Weeps Goes to College

by Matt Cowley
from the School of Theatre & Dance of The University of South Florida in Tampa, FL
Volume IV. May-June 2012

(Note: this story is from our previous Volume III; please stay tuned for our next Bulletin for a new story from the University of South Florida.)

The University of South Florida’s School of Theatre and Dance (SOTAD), welcomed representatives from the Lark and playwright Marcus Gardley, to its Tampa campus in late January. Tours, meetings, rehearsals, interacting with faculty and students, filled the two days, that ended in a table reading of Act One of the play.

Hosted by SOTAD Director, Marc Powers, the reading was performed by student actors from a class taught by Professor Fanni Green, titled Staged Readings. Prof. Green and Mr. Gardley performed with the students in the reading, which was followed by a talkback with the audience. The event was live-streamed on NewPlay TV; an archive of it can be viewed at http://bit.ly/roadweeps.

By virtue of the makeup of a college class, the casting was indeed ‘blind-casting’- it was cross-cultural and cross-gender, which served to underscore the play’s theme of identity. When the student actors met with Marcus in rehearsals, they eagerly pointed to their love of the play’s language (it’s poetry); they pointed out that the listener and reader is captivated by the magnitude of the landscape of the play (it is mythological in ways, with the presence of the gods felt close and personal) and the complexities of the relationships (as in Trowbridge and Number Two). These same comments were echoed in the talkback after the reading, as well.

The themes discussed were: migration, identity, love, family, history, faith and belief, grief and community. The explorations of ‘history’ was potent. History and one’s own story, who gets to tell it? Is history events, or is it the retelling of events? In the play, Horsepower tells Wonderful: “… ain’t no such thing as a bad history, there’s only a bad way to tell it.” The theme faith and belief illuminate the two competing belief systems in the play, which allow for simple scientific explanations for events like the drying up of a well or the ways the community manifests and shares its grief. These are people that are strong, they’re survivors and fighters, creating sanctuaries in impossible conditions. To survive is to be hard. To cry is to be weak. But it’s the shedding of a single tear that releases Goodbird’s spirit, and when the community is able to grieve and cry together they can finally move on from disaster.

The next step for USF will be the class continuing its research on Black Seminoles and related history in preparation for a full length reading of the play for a radio audience. We’re working on an exploration of the music in the play and the cross-fertilization between the music of Black Seminoles ( or Black Freedmen) and what may be recognized as African-American gospel. As a preview, here’s a video Gardley recommended. It’s a Muscogee Creek hymn, with influences from American Indian, Anglo-Scot and African American music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DFruKoLdik. The journey on the road continues……

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