Books, books and more books. Bookcases overflowing with books have lined numerous sets at Peninsula Players over its 81-year history. The tall leather bound spines stand upright on the shelves and call to those passing by, “Hold me and disappear within my pages.”
Now on stage at the Players is “Alabama Story” by Kenneth Jones. This engaging play features a children’s book, “The Rabbit’s Wedding” by Garth Williams. In 1959, one librarian took a fierce stance to defend it from a segregationist senator in Montgomery, Alabama.
The set is comprised of stacks of mobile bookcases and “books.” The bookcases are seamlessly repositioned by the running crew to create the different locations of the play, just as pages of a book turn to reveal a new chapter.
I love books. I’ve traveled with Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next into Bookworld and rode across the prairie in a covered wagon with Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’ve visited Ireland several times with Maeve Binchy and been on the front lines of World War I with Charles Todd and Jacqueline Winspear.
I’ve made life-long friends by spending time within the pages of these magical portholes. When I am at the library or bookstore and see a title I recognize, a warm happy feeling fills me and I reach out and touch its spine to give the characters within a high-five.
“A book is a heart that beats in the chest of another,” Rebecca Solnit wrote.
I wondered if other members of the company, cast or playwright also shared this connection with books. So I asked them, “What books speak to you?” “What book left a lasting impact?” “Who are your literary friends?”
Below are the replies I received, in no particular order:
“The Velveteen Rabbit” – “Everything you need to know about life and love is in that book.” – Jack Magaw, scenic designer.
“Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert – “Is a book that every artist /creative person needs to read. It is inspiring and makes you feel like what you’re doing as a career is OK. You can be your most creative self by working with the ‘Big Magic’ that is the universe as opposed to demanding your art provide for you.” – Kristen Nuhn, properties manger.
“The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon” by Thomas Spanbauer – “Crazy, fun, heartbreaking, old wild west tale of a half-native, bi-sexual boy named Shed and his journey to understand his own story. First line of the book, ‘If you’re the devil then it’s not me telling this story.’” – James Leaming, actor
“The Uglies Series” by Scott Westerfeld. “The series is about fitting in, as well as creating an impossibly perfect world, and the lengths people will go to for both. It introduces teens to ideas such as beauty standards and self-harm, while being set far enough in the future to not make it depressing. The series definitely shaped my world view while I was in high school to the point where I still think about it today.” Bailee Schmidt, production intern.
“Same Kind of Different As Me” by Ron Hall & Denver Moore. “Like our plays it’s a wonderful, precious story about the human spirit that lives inside us all. It also reminds me to look past the surface when I interact with others.” – Stephen Roy White, lighting designer.
“A Chance in the World” by Steve Pemberton – “Pemberton’s story changed my outlook on life. The odds were stacked against him from the beginning. Steve pushed through the unfortunate hand he was dealt in life and created the family that he always dreamed of. The story is so compelling and well written! I realized there’s always someone worse off…I really gained a new perspective on life.” – Byron Glenn Willis, actor.
“The Hobbit” by J.R.R.Tolkien – “My favorite memory of a book was from reading ‘The Hobbit’ when I was 14. It was halfway through a week-long service trip I took with my family to a rural orphanage in Honduras. I had detested the thought of going on the trip ever since it was announced, namely because our family ‘vacation’ was going to be spent in one of the most impoverished and dangerous countries in our hemisphere. But of course, ‘The Hobbit’ is all about that glorious moment when you leave your comfort zone at home to go on fantastic adventures, and my completion of the novel coincided with my realization that the trip was the most amazing, life-changing, and eye-opening experience I had ever had, and like Mr. Baggins, I became a better person because of it.” – Jordan Pokorney, production intern.
“The Necessity of Empty Places” by Paul Gruchow – “Reminds us how important nature is and why we need to connect to it.” – Brian Kelsey, managing director.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. “This book chronicles a man who has the strength to do what is right and fair when the great majority of society is opposed or willing to turn a blind eye.” – Peter Brian Kelly, box office manager.
“’The Great Gatsby’ deeply impacted me as a boy,” replied “Alabama Story” director Brendon Fox. “Every few years I go back to it and find something new in it. I think I loved Nick Carraway’s ambivalence about Gatsby and his world, and of course Fitzgerald’s language.”
Actor Erica Elam shared several titles she enjoyed including “Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen, which “makes me laugh and I never get tired of stories of romantic, repressed love and characters;” to “Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery and “Anthropology of an American Girl” by Hilary Thayer Hamann.
“I was attracted (to) mysteries as a kid,” replied playwright Kenneth Jones. “(I) read The Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon. I still have a Hardy Boys book on my shelf next to my desk — ‘The Arctic Patrol Mystery.’ Not sure why this one. Just a souvenir from childhood. The last evidence of my juvenile taste. My name is written in pencil in the inside cover. It wasn’t literature, but it certainly introduced me to tension, conflict and resolution — the basic building blocks of drama. Did The Hardy Boys make me a creative writer? “
“I loved John Steinbeck’s non-fiction book ‘Travels With Charley,’” Ken continued. “I read (it) in high school. Late in his life, he crossed the country with his dog, in a mobile home, and reported his encounters with average Americans. It made me curious about Steinbeck’s other work, and it made me aware of the extraordinary variety of humanity in the United States.”
Actors Neil Brookshire and Harter Clingman also listed titles by John Steinbeck, “Grapes of Wrath” and “Of Mice and Men.” Neil also included “A Country Called Home” by Kim Barnes; “Catch-22,” “Cannery Row,” “Lonesome Dove,” “The English Patient” and “Don Quixote.”
Harter’s list included “The Story of My Boyhood and Youth” by John Muir. Muir’s family immigrated to Wisconsin from Scotland. “His love of nature, and how poetically he expresses it,” Harter said. “It is what draws me back to his writings.”
“Green Eggs & Ham” by Dr. Seuss. “My mother used to cook eggs with green food-dye and read this book to me and my older brother,” Harter said. “I associate that story with the sense-memory of scrambled eggs–it made it unforgettable.”
Books are magic portholes; readers transcend the now. Books and theater take one on a journey and evoke cherished memories. Create or discover memories as you travel with us to 1959 before “Alabama Story” closes Sept. 4. Or join us for the fast paced spy adventure, “The 39 Steps,” which will be on stage starting Sept. 7. For more information about Peninsula Players call the Box Office at (920) 868-3287 or visit www.peninsulaplayers.com.