An Education in Prudence - How I Learned Whose Play this Is aka How I Met Maya pt. 3
Soon after meeting Dustin, I met the whole Open Theatre Project (OTP) Board. They were enthusiastic about my play, but had one question: was I open to continue working on it?
Sure, I said. I was open. Though, I didn’t know how or how much more I could be. Over three years, I had written in, then written out sixteen characters, different beginnings and endings, different ways to use time, and more.
Soon, OTP organized a table reading, with a talented group of actors assembled by our first director, Alex Smith. As we began, Alex posed a question: “Whose story is this? And whose is it trying to be?”
Since the beginning, I had called the play, Prudence, after the teacher, Prudence Crandall, at the center of the story Beth had first told me. Wasn’t it Prudence’s play?
Over several hours, we read and talked about the script. It got late. At 10:15, Alex stops the group,
“I want to be respectful of time, but, let’s hear one final thought from everyone.”
We went around the table. The last person to speak was Maya Carter, a young actress reading for Julia, one of Prudence’s students.
“I think the play is trying to be Julia’s story,” she said.
My mind exploded. I knew she was right.
Most research on this story from New England in the 1830s centers on Prudence Crandall, with book titles like, Bold Venture – Prudence Crandall and her Fight to Educate Young Black Women, or Prudence Crandall’s Legacy – The Fight for Equality. In 1991, Disney produced a TV movie, She Stood Alone. Obviously, Prudence didn’t stand alone. Most significantly, two dozen African American girls stood with her, at great personal risk – far greater than she faced – to further their education. Yet, in a historical record that focuses on a noble, heroic, “white savior,” their stories are more difficult to uncover. I knew I didn’t want my play to make the same mistake. Yet, I had been struggling to figure out how, until Maya showed me the way.
And so, I set about re-writing the play. Again. This time, with a new protagonist.
Then came the 2016 elections, and all that has happened since, causing me to look anew at how this story still speaks. In writing this 110-page play, my “cutting room floor” document of deleted scenes is now numbers 248 pages.
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