39 years ago, my children’s parents moved our family from a five-year residence in Indianapolis, Indiana to Atlanta, Georgia, following their father’s career. My two children and I were all born and raised in Chicago, and I sincerely believe that had we not cut roots to Chi-Town and Nap-Town and moved here, I would not today be 31 years a playwright.
Since 1887 Atlanta’s official seal has been the Egyptian Phoenix rising from the ashes of its former self bearing the motto “Resurgens,” meaning “rising again.” That has certainly been the case for the playwright laying dormant in me.
Yes, I was already a writer, having had two articles on local musicians published in Indianapolis Magazine. But you could paper a wall with rejection responses to my fiction attempts. I wish I could remember which play it was that Jomandi Productions produced at Atlanta’s 14th Street Playhouse that made me realize I don’t see the sunrise, sunset, or any visuals. I hear voices like those characters onstage. Had my inner voices been waiting for Atlanta?
This is not a history of Valetta but a travelog of her journey, better yet of the filling/nurturing stations that powered her journey. Exiting that Jomandi performance, an angel named Erskine, whose last name neither my brain nor computer remember, tapped me on the back of my shoulder and asked, “Do you know we have classes here?” Who told him I’d just had a revelation?
YES!, I wanted a tour of Jomandi Productions’ and Academy Theatre’s home! And YES!, I wanted a brochure of classes. And YES!, I took Michael Machinot’s “Finding Your Voice” and found the teenage voice, who matured into She’ll Find Her Way Home, my first professional production that qualified my entrée into the Dramatists Guild.
Of course, during that maturation process I found the SouthEast Playwrights Project (SEPP), that Gayle Austin resurrected from the ashes of the Atlanta New Play Project. It later merged with Working Title Playwrights. And August Wilson’s answer to my question at “Lunchtime With Kenny,” when Kenny Leon was Artistic Director of Alliance Theatre, was an essential ingredient in She’ll Find… and every play I’ve written since. Then there were playwright Phillip Depoy’s, Thomas Jones’ (Jomandi) and Vincent Murphy’s (Theater Emory) contributions to the development of my only, though still unproduced, musical on the life of the father of gospel music, Thomas Andres Dorsey, that continue to influence my historical plays. Beyond producing Hallelujah Street Blues, Lisa and Jeff Adler’s Horizon Theatre did two summer workshops of Leaving Limbo that Peter Hardy’s Essential Theatre produced. When I took 7 Stages Theatre’s former Co-Artistic Director Del Hamilton’s “Acting For Playwrights,” I finally understood that my scripts were asking actors to step outside their own skins and inhabit the skins of strangers. I have ever since bowed down to everyone whose has ever breathed life into my transcribed voices. And, of course, I could not forget playwright, novelist, and poet, Pearl Cleage recommending me to teach her classes at Spelman College while she toured when her What Seems Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day was added to Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club. What this overly long paragraph is trying to show is how Valetta is/was supported and nurtured. Yes, too, Valetta’s plays, but most important to me, Valetta, the transcriber of the voices in my head.
And now, thanks to Daniel Guyton’s vision for Merely Players Theatre’s new play development program, Merely Writers, Atlanta Metro has expanded its nurturing of my historically-based trilogy to include the Virginia Playwrights Forum in the very region that Edward Coles: From Boy To Man actually happened. And I’ve not left home! How remarkable is that?!
Last but certainly not least are all Atlanta Metro’s non-theatre nurturing stations, most of which continue to support and expand my universe and mind. Alternate ROOTS, Artists Conference Network, Braver Angels, DeKalb County Public Library, DeKalb History Center, Georgia Council for the Arts, Goethe Institute, etc., etc., etc.
“I get by with a little help from my friends.” And there are friends aplenty for us playwrights at home in Atlanta. And for those who think The Beatles and 1967 are ancient history, Welcome!