• Chris Freeman

Play Development: An Odyssey



Jeannette Brown and Linda Parsons have been absolute gems during the development of this play. Originally slated as a Hammer Ensemble work, it was transferred to our regular season early in the year, which would allow a longer run, a larger budget, and the creative firepower of top tier talent you’ve come to expect from all of our shows. The show went through a fresh rewrite, transferring all the roles to an exclusively female cast and indulging a little longer in the characters' stories.


Of course, what modern odyssey set at the beginning of 2020 would be complete without the introduction of an important character? Of course, I’m speaking of our friend Mrs. ‘Rona. “The Novel Coronavirus” which we learned quickly does not, in fact, have anything to do with a book. COVID hit us in a very unexpected, but perhaps to you the reader, predictable way.


With the early closing of our production I and You in March, the theatre had hopes that we would get through this in about a month, maybe two, and we could continue the season. Jeannette and Linda kept writing, while Jayne, our Artistic Director, continued to provide direction. “We’ll just keep going with it in hopes things get back to normal,” was a common phrase in our email threads. That, dear friends, is where the dramatic irony kicks in.


Things are still, most definitely, not normal. If you personally are an oracle and can give me a date and time where things will be normal, please call me at my personal cell phone number.


But back to the odyssey at hand. Eventually, we “saw the light,” as they say, and realized we needed to pivot. We had a plan, a new idea. Terms were agreed, and we were going to produce this thing as a “shot on stage” film. (For a minute we even thought we could bring in a socially distanced audience- HA!) Jayne rethought her vision, and our faithful playwrights were ready for the intensive process that is a Film Set.


Y’all, when I say we were in this, I mean WE WERE IN THIS, like Michael Jordan realizing that the cartoon world he was in was completely ridiculous yet still committing to play for Bugs Bunny to send those aliens back to their home planet.



We had a film crew, a shot script, a broadcast schedule, theatrical designers convinced to make a temporary switch to screen… but cases of COVID continued to rise. And rise. And rise.


We said to ourselves, in probably another hindsight is 20/20 scenario, “we can still make this happen, we just need to adjust a little,” and then said, “okay- adjust a lot.” We decided that everyone working on the show would be able to practice social distancing and/or mask. We’d take breaks, have areas that were off-limits, it was all going to work. But the actors- the play wouldn’t work with masks. So we thought up some extra precautions in order for them to be mask free that basically equated to “you’re on lockdown throughout rehearsals and filming.” That, we figured, was the closest we could come to “The Bubble” that the sports world has recently started adopting.


All of our actors agreed that these were the necessary steps we needed to take. Ultimately, many of them knew that they couldn’t fulfill the requirements and dropped out. They had day jobs in the service industry, they had roommates who they couldn’t force to be on lockdown, they have to take care of their grandkids during the day, they have a partner who are essential workers. Therein lies the rub of being a performing artist in these times. Even when we desperately want to work, when we think we have found a way to make it happen in a way that’s familiar to you, our beloved audiences, we know that we can’t. For the sake of our community, we know that’s the right thing to do.


So that’s where our odyssey ends. A play transferring artistic direction, continuous rewrites, a new format, a cancelation, and eventual postponement until next year. I suppose it’s nowhere near as epic as Odysseus's journey, but if my high school English class serves my memory, we share the theme of perseverance in the face of forces much bigger than us.



As a producer of the arts, I find a couple of takeaways. One, I want Flying Anvil to be in a position to pay our artists a living wage. We pride ourselves in employing professionals in their fields- and one day we’ll be able to pay our artists enough so that they don’t have to have another job. Two, the performing arts industry is fragile. We are an industry that relies on our audiences, and our audiences want to attend. When people aren’t ready to sit in a room with 100 strangers for a long time, we simply can’t produce. It’s not economical. Theatre, in particular, is aided in the live nature of the art. The communal experience of sitting in a darkened room, experiencing the same story unfolding in a way that will never happen in exactly the same way again is part of the magic. Without our audiences, who are we?


We’ve decided, in this time, to bring content where we know you’re comfortable. We recognize that producing “virtually” is just that- “almost” theatre. We do still hope that you will join us on this adventure! Our 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage Celebration features readings from SuffRAGE: To Give Voice, and even though it’s not the whole show, it’ll give you a nice taste of what to expect when we can produce the play live on stage. Linda Parsons will even be joining the conversation as the hostess for the night- leading a discussion panel with Jack Neely, Amelia Parker, and Wanda Sobieski. This, we feel, is a great way to celebrate the Centennial Anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. It just wouldn’t feel right making our only celebration on the 101st anniversary.


PS- We also recognize that while there is a lot to celebrate on this day, there’s also the cold hard fact that BIPOC women’s rights were sacrificed in the passing of women’s suffrage. Systematic racism was very present in this movement, as it has been weaved into all of American History. Though technically given the right to vote federally, individual states were given the ability to deny BIPOC women of their voting rights until the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Even though the act made it technically illegal to discriminate against a person because of their race from that point forward, politicians still find new ways of voter suppression, of which BIPOC are disproportionately affected. We’ll be hitting that topic in the discussion tonight too, because we can celebrate the achievements of the past, recognize their faults, and work towards a better future at the same time.


Get information about our 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage Celebration on Facebook, and go ahead and purchase a season pass for our Virtual Mini Season- it’s only $50 and gets you three nights of in-home entertainment that will be sure to delight!


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