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CULTURE FRONT: Play publicizes local plight
Jackson Hole, Wyoming – You were kicked out of your apartment because the landlord wouldn’t wait the extra few days for the rent check. Your small children are cold and hungry. Nights are getting colder, and you and your kids are sleeping in your car. Where do you turn for help in Jackson Hole?
This Saturday, Off Square Theatre tells stories from the Community Resource Center, the go-to place for residents in housing and financial crisis. The two organizations teamed up to create a play that would convey the everyday realities at CRC. Off Square commissioned three professional writers to interview CRC staff and clients. The result is Mercy, an original play that weaves together stories collected from the writers.
“It was paramount to us to preserve the privacy of the clients,” said Caryn Flanagan, the lead writer and director of the play. “CRC staff reached out directly to individuals they thought would be interested in sharing their stories, and then we were put in touch with the clients once they’d agreed to be interviewed.”
As a magazine writer, Jayme Feary knew how to turn a person’s experiences into a narrative. But as a self-proclaimed “novice playwright,” he needed to show all the important aspects of several families’ stories.
“I did that by establishing one set of characters based on actual people, and then attributed scenes to them that various people experienced,” he said. “I invented almost nothing and instead created a sort of composite of experiences.”
The third writer for the project, Robin Moore, chose to tell stories of the CRC staff.
“I envisioned the staff as a Greek chorus of bodhisattvas experiencing the pain and suffering of their clients, being with them through it but not in it,” Moore said.
Saturday’s 7 p.m. performance of Mercy is a one-night only event, a staged reading on the Center Theater featuring more than 20 local performers and followed by a reception in the theater lobby. The production will also feature original music by Madelaine Germain inspired by transcripts of the original interviews.
“The writers focused on three areas of need: housing, medical, and unemployment,” Flanagan said. “I edited the individual writings together to create the play.”
Feary said the interviews were at times emotionally challenging. But he came away with a hopeful perspective. “The overriding impression that stayed with me was the determination with which almost every person approached his or her situation,” he said. “Despite lots of terrible moments, they felt hopeful. They never quit, never gave up, even when facing death. I’ve seldom witnessed such courage.”
The CRC staff similarly inspired Moore.
“These women from the CRC are so understated,” Moore said. “They take on so much so quietly. I’ve watched Amy for years putting together that food cupboard, such a humble labor of love that has actually changed lives. I’ve seen Smokey in the trenches fighting fiercely to give voices to people who are overlooked and outcast. And Carmina, she’s a rock!”
Flanagan said that clients’ stories are deliberately layered together, so that no individuals feel exposed. “People will relate,” she said, “And they may even feel like, ‘Hey, that’s my story.’ But if they do, it’s because these stories are universal in our community.”