When Tearrance A. Chisholm first visited Sweet Briar College for Endstation Theatre Company’s Playwright’s Initiative, he was immediately intrigued by the college’s plantation cemetery.
So when Endstation organizers began encouraging those involved with the Playwright’s Initiative to work on pieces specific to the area, he’d found his calling.
"We basically started off by issuing kind of a challenge to each of the playwrights, to start writing work about either Central Virginia, Lynchburg, Amherst or Sweet Briar," says Endstation Associate Artistic Director Michael Stablein, Jr., who heads the initiative.
"Tearrance was the one who kind of ran with it the furthest. He immediately went to the Sweet Briar archives and kind of got lost there creatively."
The result, after four years worth of research, writing and visits to Sweet Briar, is the original play "In Sweet Remembrance," which will have its first public reading at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the college’s Pannell Gallery. Admission is free.
"Out of researching these old letters and diary entries and legal papers, I formulated this story about the first black tenured professor at Sweet Briar," Chisholm says.
The character came to him first, and he used it as a jumping off point to incorporate events and people from Sweet Briar’s past; throughout the course of the play, her actions will eventually "place her in this long line of strong [Sweet Briar] women," he says.
"She was the impetus for everything," he says. "Then I looked at what kind of lessons she needed to learn, and that allowed me to find the characters that would teach her these lessons."
"It’s almost as if the walls, the floors, the very earth, has memory. For whatever reason, [she] has somehow been given access to these memories."
Stablein says Chisholm’s script is a "really wonderful marriage between fact and fiction.
"I think a big challenge for a lot of writers, both fiction and nonfiction writers, is their ability to incorporate research into a creative endeavor. … Tearrance has this wonderful deftness of working [with both]."
Chisholm returned to Amherst earlier this month to finish a first draft of the script and has been working on it daily with Stablein and the actors who will participate in the reading.
"It’s forced me to make these decisions that I’ve kind of been dreading," he says, laughing. "I work very well under pressure because I don’t have time to meander."
And with the actors involved, "I get to write and then I get to hear it out loud immediately. It definitely helps the process."
After the reading, Chisholm will continue to tweak the script. The ultimate goal is to give it a short run during Endstation’s annual summer theater festival in 2014 and then re-mount it during the school year.
"I’m working to put out the best first draft I can," he says. "I keep it in the back of my mind that it’s not the end of it."
Contact Casey Gillis at (434) 385-5525 or firstname.lastname@example.org.