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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Flood

Playwright Will Fancher

In 2007 I had an image pop into my head of an old man and a young boy sitting in a rundown house, talking about their sins. In 2009, having turned that image into a play called The River was Whiskey and labored on it for a semester in Melinda Lopez's workshop here at BPT, I put it away for good. I had hit a brick wall. The language had curdled into a pointless babble of ain'ts and y'alls, the characters' motives and desires were murky at best (nonsensical at worst), and I was in open revolt against anything that might be regarded as southern gothic, which is all too often assumed to be the default style of a Southern writer. And there was nothing I could do to fix it. Every revision was just digging the hole deeper.

The play was in a drawer maybe three months before I got the call that it had been accepted to the WordBRDIGE Playwrights Lab in Clemson, SC. Not only could I no longer forget about it, but I would have to rehearse it with a director, dramaturg, and actors for two weeks, and then present it in a public staged reading. So I started working again, from scratch, with input and advice and inspiration from wherever I could get it. And then, in the midst of that development, came the flood of 1927, which broke the play open and spilled all over my pages. The play was suddenly about something very real and very specific. The story of the play became the story of its development: a clean and orderly lie overwhelmed by the force of a messy, bloody truth.

And there were always songs. Mississippi is where America's music was born, where the tunes of England and Ireland found a new rhythm in a heartbeat wrenched from the shores of West Africa. Where hard work met hard times and there was never quite enough of anything to go around. Where passion and joy were found wherever they could be, and held tight for fear that they'd never show back up again. Family, liquor, sex, religion. And music flowing like a river under it all. Saturday night blues and reels, seeping into Sunday morning hymns. Johnny Cash once said that the stuff of songs was love, God, and murder. I've tried my damnedest to make that the stuff of this play as well.

I'm extremely grateful for (and have been occasionally puzzled by) the incredible support this play and I have received over the last three years--not just from Kate and everyone at BPT, but Mark Charney and Dave White at WordBRIDGE, Gregg Henry at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, and Celise Kalke at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. I want to thank the half-dozen directors and countless actors who have dedicated their time, be it a little or a lot, to wade through my mess and find something real on the other side. I want to thank Mike, Alexis, Chris, and Masha, my brothers-and-sister-in-arms from the class of '09, who are woven into the play's DNA whether they like it or not.

I am blown away on a daily basis by the talent and drive of my director, stage manager, actors, designers, and crew. They've really put something special together, and at the very least you should see it for their sake. Twice. And bring friends. Tell them there's music.

- Will Fancher, playwright

For tickets to The River Was Whiskey please visit or call 866.811.4111

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