Blog Series

Erwin, Tennessee: Establishing the Setting of Elephant’s Graveyard

Hello again! It’s me, Anna Martin, your friendly dramaturg. Last week, I wrote about our upcoming production of Elephant’s Graveyard by George Brant and promised more historical context for the play you’re about to attend. The next few blog posts by Sophie Hamm and me will divulge a piece of what grounds this story in United States’ history. The theme of today’s blog: the town of Erwin, Tennessee. At the turn of the century, Erwin was suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. In fact, the town was not meant to be named “Erwin” at all. It should have been called “Ervin” after David J. N. Ervin, a farmer who owned the majority of the land the city was built upon. After a typo by the postmaster led Ervin to become Erwin, a few years of confusion ensued until the town charter clearly stated the correct name in 1876.

But the name confusion was not the sole cause of Erwin’s woes. The internal conflict boiling within Erwin was sparked by the Industrial Revolution, which was responsible for upturning many rural areas of the United States with the introduction of factory work as an alternative to pastoral occupations. Tennessee as a whole is rich in natural resources and was therefore the perfect unfettered paradise to pollute with steal railways and coal-powered factories. The railroad dictated where factories could be located since they were dependent on each other for business, and Erwin just happened to have a train station for the Clinchfield & Ohio Line. In 1916, the Blue Ridge Pottery factory was opened in Erwin, Tennessee. The Blue Ridge Pottery factory is renowned for its artisanal flatware and was the number one employer in Erwin next to the railroad itself.

The New South Tennessee, 1887, Harper’s Weekly

Despite the booming flatware economy, Erwin was far from a major city. Unlike other, more metropolitan areas like Nashville or Memphis, Erwin’s population at 1900 was only 1,149 citizens. In fact, the majority of the Tennessee population tended to live outside the larger cities. Even with the introduction of more industrial means of production, Tennesseans were reluctant to abandon traditional occupations such as farming. At the beginning of the 20th century, farmers outnumbered industrial workers six to one. On the one hand, farming is practical; a farmer could provide everything their family needed while still producing extra to sell. But on the other, those who refuse to adapt to changing times often fall by the wayside. After the Civil War, a population boom decreased the average acreage owned by one farmer. Sharecropping, or working on another farmer’s land, became commonplace, as did spending part of the year employed at a mill.

So what can be expected from Erwin, Tennessee? In a town of divided ideals, torn asunder by the prospect of advancement colliding with the fear of change, will residents favor progress or be stuck in their ways? The play asks what Erwin values, considering an historical event and a range of citizen responses.

Be sure to see Loyola’s production of Elephant’s Graveyard later this month, and stay tuned for more blog posts leading up to the opening October 28.

Posted on by Anna Martin in Blog Series, Dramaturg Post, Theatre Comments Off on Erwin, Tennessee: Establishing the Setting of Elephant’s Graveyard

She Loves Me: A New Perspective

Hello readers!

She Loves Me is well underway and embarking on its second weekend of performances. The cast and crew hope that audience members seeing the show will leave the theatre feeling happy and refreshed. This sense of relief and enjoyment is definitely something the writers intended to achieve, and it is a common theme amongst all the adaptations. However, there are many different ideas explored in the original script Parfumerie and its subsequent interpretations. This post hopes to illuminate a few of these ideas for you.

At first look, She Loves Me does not appear to be a show with a specific political message, nor does it aims to be. But due to the historical landscape surrounding the composition of the original story, some subtle political themes can be seen in the work. Parfumerie was written in 1937, during the most severe economic depression Europe has experienced to date. Unemployment rates skyrocketed from 5 percent to nearly 36 percent in less than five years. Taking these details into consideration, it is no coincidence, then, that the clerks at the Parfumerie feel especially driven to keep their jobs, or that Amalia feels the urgent need to find one. A great example of these worried feelings seeping into the show is the song “Perspective,” sung by the agreeable family man Ladislav Sipos. The song is entirely about how he compromises his own self-respect in order to avoid conflict and keep his job.

download“Let me put it bluntly: I’m a coward with a wife and children to support. Actually my creed is short and simple: five essential words Georg: do not lose your job!!!”1

While the writing of the show approaches these issues from a comedic standpoint, they still carry the weight they held during the depression. As the US slowly recovers from its own most recent economic recession, these dire feelings are ones that likely many of us can understand as well. And as for the comedy? Well, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

There’s one weekend left to see She Loves Me, and we hope to see you there! Tickets available here.

Au revoir,

Maggie Cramer

Posted on by Margaret Cramer in She Loves Me, She Loves Me Dramaturg, Theatre Comments Off on She Loves Me: A New Perspective

Fresh Faces: Brian Warner & Molly Hernandez Take the Lead in She Loves Me

“It’s very daunting, but at the same time, I’m incredibly honored to be given the opportunity.

“It’s an honor. It’s very exciting! It’s very humbling, too.”

What other responses would you expect from two freshmen cast as the lead roles in a Main Stage musical? Indeed,  freshman Theatre majors Brian Warner and Molly Hernandez happily and humbly reflect on their experiences starring in She Loves Me as they plunge into the final weekend of the show’s run.

brian she loves meWarner wistfully describes his character Georg Nowack as “a hopeless romantic” who is also “very well educated and int
elligent.” This compels him “to find his woman and live happily ever after. But his fear is that he won’t.” As a result, Georg “starts writing to someone through this Lonely Hearts Club. Once he finds [his secret admirer] Dear Friend, his greatest hope and his greatest fear is, ‘Is this Dear Friend everything that I hoped for her to be?’”

Meanwhile, Hernandez excitedly explains that she loves her character Amalia Balash “because she’s not your typical ingénue. She’s spunky, and kind of sassy. Her biggest fear is that she’s going to end up alone, and she’s afraid that Georg is going to get in the way of that and cause issues. But they also have this playful banter throughout the show!”

Although their lovesick protagonists share much in common, both actors use distinct methods to get into character.

Read more

Posted on by Daryn Robinson in Around Campus, General, She Loves Me, She Loves Me Dramaturg, Theatre, Weekend Update Comments Off on Fresh Faces: Brian Warner & Molly Hernandez Take the Lead in She Loves Me