Alliance to adapt Trethewey’s Pulitzer Prize-winner as part of Civil War Project

The Alliance Theatre will adapt U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection “Native Guard” for the stage as part of the National Civil War Project, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned. The multi-city, multi-year collaboration is being officially announced in Washington on Thursday.

The Alliance will collaborate with Emory University’s Center for Creativity & the Arts and other partners at the Atlanta school as part of the National Civil War Project, which links five performing arts groups and four universities.

Initial plans are for “Native Guard” to be workshopped as part of the Emory Playwriting Center’s Brave New Works Program in winter 2014, with a full Alliance season production to follow at an undetermined date.

“I find, as a piece of writing, ‘Native Guard’ is just this exquisite embodiment of living past,” Alliance artistic director Susan V. Booth said in an interview with the AJC. “Natasha takes such a complicated idea of our shared heritage, the Civil War, and has figured out ingeniously how to talk about that in personal, contemporary, emotional terms.”

Booth said she had a strong interest in bringing “Native Guard” to the stage when she read the collection shortly after it was published in 2006, but it wasn’t until she unexpectedly met the poet several years later at a dinner organized by their mutual friend, WABE-FM announcer Lois Reitzes, that the idea took seed.

Momentum grew last summer when Booth was approached by Molly Smith, artistic director of Washington, D.C.’s Arena Stage, to participate in the National Civil War Project, which also involves the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., and Baltimore’s Centerstage along with academic partners. The project was the brainstorm of choreographer Liz Lerman.

Booth said yes, but with a caveat.

“We live in this community that deals with (the Civil War’s) legacy in an active, daily way, and so the notion of a kind of under-glass historical investigation was not as interesting as a notion of how can we talk about what it means right now,” she said.

To that end, the Emory Ethics Center will organize panel discussions and audience conversations as part of the play’s development.

Booth said that Trethewey — though busy with her writing, her Emory’s Creative Writing Program directorship and poet laureate duties — would be intimately involved in the adaption. “I couldn’t take it on any other way,” the Alliance leader said.

Booth indicated she didn’t think the work required significant alteration, that the real challenge would be determining, through additions of music and stagecraft, “what is what in the performative setting for the piece that best lets it shine.”

Another dimension of the Civil War Project will involve Atlanta playwright Pearl Cleage developing a Civil War-themed production with Collision Project, the Alliance’s summer teen workshop.

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