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History to Page to Stage




Staging the Blalocks I should write a book about the Blalocks, the protagonists in our next play, “Bushwhackers.” Maybe I will.

 

But I should write a book about the Stanly-Spaight duel, subject of our first musical, two years ago, as well. The Wright Brothers – whom we covered last year? Naw. It’s been done.

 

But I’ve certainly done enough research on the Blalocks and Mr. Spaight to at least have a good start on a book…

 

NCHT is about teaching history through theater. We take true stories that, if not famous, should be. I do a lot of personal research so we can get the stories right. Sometimes—as in the case of the Blalocks – there is an awful lot of significant events and we’d need at least a mini-series on tv to get most of it in.

 

But this is a play. Two hours, maybe as much as two-and-a-half, but after that the audience is going to get restless. As a playwright I have no choice but to leave significant portions of the story out.

 

And my limitations aren’t only length. There are also limitations brought about by the limitations of a stage, and the limitations of actors.

 

These aren’t always problems for video production, if one has a big enough budget. There’s CGI and greenscreen work, for instance. If I want to show a big battle I can hire extras and put them on a mountain or in a field – much more expansive than the 20 or so feet I have of a stage – and film them. If I don’t have enough extras, I can create them in a computer (the incredibly awful second trilogy of Star Wars did that).

 

Bayard Wootten, the North Carolina photographer, for instance, had herself lowered on a rope over a cliff so she could get a shot she wanted of a waterfall. It’s a great part of her story that shows her spunk. I can film that with a film crew. It would be a lot trickier to carry it out on a stage.

 

And so with many of the stories of the Blalocks: they were involved in several skirmishes and fights. In one, they tricked a Confederate encampment into believing they were outnumbered by setting numerous campfires all along a mountain. The entire force surrendered and was stunned to learn they outnumbered their captors by a huge margin. Outside of having an actor describing it, I couldn’t tell that on a stage. And a major rule of writing is, “Don’t tell… show.”

 

And, so, in “Bushwhackers,” you won’t see that great little tale.

 

We have another little problem, too: you simply can’t fire a gun on stage; most stages and theaters won’t allow blank cartridges, either—because, at close range, a blank is deadly, and there isn’t a theater in the state that isn’t worried about fires.

 

In “Honour,” the story of a duel, we simply had to fire guns but used the trick of filming the duel itself out in the country and showing that on a screen as part of the play. But filming two guys banging away at each other with flintlocks is a lot easier than finding reenactors to swarm and fight, and to find the technical people who are trained to film and stage that kind of thing and do it at a cost that is less than the GDP of a moderately large city.

 

That doesn’t mean we don’t show action. One battle is staged, as is an important skirmish. Murders and betrayal are presented along with scenes about love and friendship, comradery, and emotional conflict.

 

But that’s where a lot of the fund and creativity of theater comes in: how do you show that? There are tricks we use; methods using the strength that stage has over film. We look forward to presenting this wild tale to you, and to seeing your response in July!




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