in an enhanced readers theatre version directed by Stephan Roselin
featuring the talents of Leslie Fitzwater, Chris Goode, Scott Howland, Monty Kane, Stephan Roselin, and Tess Rutkowski
with lighting by Alan Piotrowicz and stage manged by Nicole Allee
Set in Montgomery, Alabama in 1959, Alabama Story mixes real and fictional people to tell a fact-inspired fable about tests of character in a time of social turbulence. Censorship, civil rights, children’s literature and the freedom to read are elements in this highly theatrical tale set in “the Deep South of the imagination.” A bullying but complex segregationist senator wants a controversial children’s book taken off the library shelves, but a fearless librarian — no less complicated — refuses, putting both of their worlds at risk.
53212 Presents (735 E Center St, above Company Brewing)
Thursday, October 17th @ 7:30 PM
Friday, October 18th @ 7:30 PM
Saturday, October 19th @ 7:30 PM
A Note from the Producer...
Dear Friends of Theatre and Seat of Our Pants patrons -
Our next production, Alabama Story by Kenneth Jones, is ideally suited for Readers Theatre - especially by subject matter - as it is about a librarian and her defense of a book, namely The Rabbits’ Wedding by Garth Williams. Based on a true story, this drama is contemporary and relevant for a number of reasons. Attacks on free speech, right-wing demonstrations at readings in bookstores, the rise of violent racist actions, all underscore the need for artistic plays such as Alabama Story. From the links below you can learn about the play and its rapidly spreading popularity, and note that it had an early production right here in WI at Peninsula Players in Door County.
The Seat of Our Pants Readers Theatre production, enhanced with lighting and live music, will feature the acting and vocal talents of Leslie Fitzwater (co-incidentally a former MKE Public Library employee), Stephan Roselin, Scott Howland (both co-founders of Bialystock & Bloom, and Scott has just appeared as Rabbi Mortera in our New Jerusalem), Monty Kane (just in The Last Cyclist with Leslie Fitzwater at Cardinal Stritch), Tess Rutkowski, Chris Goode, and a musician on banjo/guitar. Lighting will be by Alan Piotrowicz, Stage Management by Nicole Allee.
Performances are October 17th-19th, Thurs-Sat. 7:30 pm at 53212 Presents (735 E Center St, above Company Brewing).
Our production is being sponsored in part by actor, dancer, singer, and steady supporter of the performing arts, Mr. Bob Balderson. We will need to secure other sources of funding, but we are fortunate and delighted to have Bob’s commitment to the project. (Bob appeared as Copernicus a few years ago in our reading of And the Sun Stood Still by Dava Sobel at Boswell Books).
A Note from the Playwright...
In May 2000, while reading the New York Times,I came across the story of Emily Wheelock Reed, the former State Librarian of Alabama who had been challenged by a segregationist politician in 1959. Alabama State Senator E.O. Eddins demanded that a children’s picture book — Garth Williams’ “The Rabbits’ Wedding,” about a rabbit with black fur marrying a rabbit with white fur — be purged from the shelves of Alabama libraries on the grounds that it promoted racial integration. Their conflict was reported worldwide. Before I finished reading the article, I knew this was an idea for a play.
Strong characters and richly contrasting conflicts rarely just fall into my lap, but that’s exactly what happened here. Vivid opposites — male and female, black and white, insider and outsider, Southern and Northern, private and public, child and parent, innocence and ugliness — were immediately evident in this now-forgotten slice of American history.
Emily Reed’s story was widely documented in newspapers and magazines at the time, so a lot of source material existed, allowing me draw from and expand upon actual language and public personalities. In fact, the play’s most outrageous proclamations from the bullying politician (renamed Senator Higgins) are direct quotes from the man who used to be known as “Big Ed.” And when I read Emily’s statement that “the free flow of information is the best means to solve the problems of the South, the nation and the world,” I was inspired by the grandeur and universality of the sentence: This is a story about access, a basic human right. Little did I know that the words “free flow of information” make up one of the foundational tenets of librarianship itself.
On research trips to Alabama, it came into focus that I was writing a play about censorship rather than Civil Rights, although the two are certainly tangled in Alabama Story. This was a tale about white people threatening to devour each other — and seeking to protect each other — in a time of extraordinary social change. And about how talking to one other, face to face, about difficult matters is on that continuum of “the free flow of information.” Conversations matter.
My trip to the small town of Demopolis, Alabama, was particularly inspiring. It’s the senator’s real-life stomping ground, in the middle of the state’s “black belt,” where plantation homes once thrived. I borrowed the setting to be the hometown of two characters I created for the play’s reflective story. Lily and Joshua, a black man and a white woman who were once childhood friends in Demopolis, reunite in Montgomery the same year that Emily Reed was challenged. They are meant to suggest the private heart of the public controversy. Like the others in the play, they have a deep connection to books, and the quality of their character will be challenged in their exchanges.
I hope that Alabama Story sparks a memory of a beloved book, the person who gave it to you and the day that you realized that a “turning of the page” — whether moving forward in a book or in your personal evolution — could be both terrifying and wonderful. Maybe the play will also be a reminder that no matter what our differences, on some level, we all share the same story.
—Kenneth Jones, 2019
Kenneth Jones is a playwright, lyricist and librettist who writes about his own work and advocates for other theatre makers at ByKennethJones.com.