Avid theatergoers and performing artists share the love to create. Theater is an expression of the human need to tell stories and gives society an opportunity to learn about itself. In childhood we act out real or imagined events; this instinct does not cease in adulthood. The desire to tell and share stories lingers.
By holding a mirror up to society, theater can educate and help a society as a whole to understand itself. Theatre influences and stimulates public conversation; theater builds peoples listening skills and capability to empathize with fellow human beings.
Perhaps the most steadfast role theater has played is as the proponent of the freedom of expression. What happens to a civilization’s performing arts when a military coup is under way? The theater, performing arts and books become censored.
Peninsula Players recently began our final show of the 2016 season, “The 39 Steps,” based on a book by John Buchan. Buchan was a soldier, spy, politician, published historian, lawyer, editor, war correspondent, MP, the director of a successful publishing house and became the 15th Governor General of Canada the same year Alfred Hitchcock filmed his book “The 39 Steps.”
In 1936, encouraged by his wife, he created the Governor General’s Literary Awards, which continue to be Canada’s most prestigious recognition of literary merit. The couple was active in promoting literacy in Canada by distributing 40,000 books to readers in remote areas of the west. Her program was known as the “Lady Tweedsmuir Prairie Library Scheme”.
Buchan was made a heritage peer on receiving the appointment of Governor-General of Canada in 1935 and became the first Lord Tweedsmuir. Together, Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir established the first proper library at Rideau Hall, the home of the Governor of Canada. They believed in the beauty and power of reading books.
Books brings me back to our production of “Alabama Story.” Artists have a passion to share stories that affect theatergoers and to help society move forward from the past and to remember it.
“Alabama Story” received praise from patrons and critics for its engaging story of attempted censorship.
Librarian Emily Wheelock Reed protected the freedom to read by protecting the children’s book, “The Rabbit’s Wedding” from a segregationist senator in 1959 Montgomery, Alabama.
The play sparked many conversations among theatergoers, including a recently retired library media specialist from Minnesota. Terri Evans wrote the creative team and cast of “Alabama Story” a thank you letter “for choosing to tell this important story – it is, unfortunately, a story that we need to continue to tell over and over. It was an especially poignant evening for my husband and I. We both had tears in our eyes several times throughout the performance. Emily Reed’s story in the late 1950’s could have been my own in 2013.”
Evans became engrossed in a book challenge along with fellow library colleagues over Rainbow Rowell’s “Eleanor and Park,” a Printz Honor recipient. The book was selected for a voluntary reading program for high school students.
“Why do I tell you all of this?” Evans continued. “Because, as you demonstrate, as artists it is our job to protect stories – all stories, not just those that reflect our own viewpoints. The ‘communities’ to which we belong are made up of a diverse set of individuals. By giving our community members books and plays and works of art that reflect who they ALL are, we provide them with the assurance that we see them, that they are not alone. We give them HOPE. We help them to develop as readers and as people.
“By taking away the books and plays and works of art that reflect who they are, we deny their existence, we take away their hope and their power, and we stifle their growth. In addition, stories allow others to develop understanding and empathy by reading and discussing stories that reflect a viewpoint different from their own. Knowledge truly is power. And by censoring stories, we limit the power of those we wish to control.
“Though Garth Williams,’ ‘The Rabbits’ Wedding,’ was not intended to be a story about race in the 1950s or a symbol of censorship, and Rainbow Rowell’s, ‘Eleanor and Park,’ was not intended to be a symbol of banned books in 2013 – they became these things. The issue of censorship still exists.
“My husband and I applaud the courage of your choice to tell this story of censorship and its ramifications. The choice of play, the acting, the staging, the costumes, the venue – all were top notch. Thank-you!”
Thank you, Terri Evans, for allowing us to share your experience with our community. Readers, if you are passionate about the freedom to read please know that an important week is approaching.
September 25 through October 1, 2016 is Banned Books Week, an annual event celebrating the freedom to read which highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community; librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers and readers of all types, in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas.
The Peninsula Players’ mission includes “to provide artists the freedom, tools, and facilities they require to entertain, uplift, and inform our audiences.” We hope “Alabama Story” and its story about freedom to read has a long and prolific theatrical life across the country.
The Players offer a variety of works to theatergoers, from dramas and musicals to mysteries and comedies. To enjoy a fast-paced, comedic twist of Buchan’s spy-adventure “The 39 Steps” join us by the bay before October 16. For more information phone the Box Office at 920-868-3287 or visit www.peninsulaplayers.com.