A central theme in directing Tulane has become, "the people we know". At first glance, Edward's owners and the people he encounters seem random; one character segmented and completely unrelated to the one that follows. Just think of it. Edward begins his journey on Egypt Street with a middle class to wealthy family. Next, he meets a fisherman and his wife. His next owner is a hobo and his dog followed by a little boy who gives Edward as a gift to his dying sister. How can one take all the scattered pearls to make a necklace? What do these people have in common?
One principle that is very important to me as an artist, a playwright, and a director is this. There is no such thing as a two dimensional character. In this show, we aren't just making sketches of people. This is in part due to my belief in the "method" which is a theory of acting that goes into the mental and emotional work of becoming a character. Let's take Bull, the homeless man in Tulane. During the first read through I asked the cast what they thought of Bull. Their answers were pretty typical. Words like "vagrant", and "careless" popped up. But then we dived deeper into this person. This story visits the great depression which left many able bodied people out of work and in dire poverty. It is a centerpiece of the chapters surrounding Bull that fellow hobos make a ritual of saying the names of the people they love to Edward.
After further inspection, we realized that these men may have been laid off from jobs such as coal mining when the steel industry no longer had such demand after the The Great War. When you humanize a person, you stop making negative assumptions. We decided that Bull did have a family waiting for him. That he was a coal miner who was suddenly laid off from his job and had become disenfranchised in looking for work where there were ten other men in line with him needing employment. Bull, in fact, is a person we know. He becomes a man we all know and love who loses a job and can't provide. A man who travels and has to be away from his family. He represents, then, a trove of individuals who for whatever reason, have to be separated from those they love.
This process continued in talking about Luther, Bryce's father. In the novel we see an angry absent father. Perhaps he is an alcoholic? Is he abusive? When we really started to dig into the circumstances, we realized that's not entirely true. Luther is a man who has lost his wife. Perhaps she died of the same disease Sarah Ruth is suffering with? This man is grieving and what's worse, he is watching his precious daughter slip away. Did Luther lose his job too? Is he spending his time trying to find day jobs to earn anything he can? Is he being crushed by the weight of guilt that he can't help his daughter? Again, the best characters are the ones that we can empathize with. These characters are the people we know. Through Edward, we see their struggles, their grief, their apathy, but most importantly we see their humanity and we connect that to the humanity inside ourselves.
I urge you not to miss this show. It is a very special work of art that I have had the privilege to adapt and direct.
Kristi Kargic is executive director for Footlights Community Theater based in Athens, AL. She is an elementary teacher with a lifelong love of performing arts. She strives to provide art in her home community at little to no cost to participants. Kristi is a published poet, playwright, and performing musician. Her motto is "if you build it, they will come."