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Winesburg, Ohio
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PRESS RELEASE

 


For Immediate Release                                       September  25, 2003

Contact: Dana Mathews          

Phone:  330-972-6823

 

 

University of Akron presents world premiere of Winesburg, Ohio, a theatrical adaptation of the novel by Sherwood Anderson.

 

 

The University of Akron School of Dance, Theatre, and Arts Administration, along with the New World Performance Lab, presents a new dramatic adaptation of Sherwood Andersons classical novel, Winesburg, Ohio.  Performances are at Sandefur Theatre in Guzzetta Hall on The University of Akron campus Oct. 22-25, 29-31 and Nov. 1 at 8 p.m., Oct. 26 at 2 p.m., and Nov. 1 at 3 p.m.  Information and tickets may be obtained by calling (330) 972-7895.

 

The novel Winesburg, Ohio was originally published in 1919.  Set at the turn of the 20th century, author Sherwood Anderson created a collage of stories concerning the residents of a small town in rural Ohio.

 

UA theatre professor James Slowiak and his company of actors have adapted Andersons novel for the stage.  Through dramatic story telling and original music, this production reveals the secret inner lives of the residents of Winesburg through the eyes of a young boy as he comes of age.  On the surface, Winesburg appears to be a simple rural village populated by eccentric characters.  Beneath the surface, its residents are dealing with all the complexities of life.

Slowiak says, The issues people are dealing with today:  their dreams and passions, loneliness and spiritual emptiness, and even issues such as sexism, racism, and homophobiaare all there in Andersons stories.  There is a universality in his themes that makes Winesburg an important place to revisit a century later.

 

The premiere performances of Winesburg, Ohio are part of Ohio's Bicentennial celebrations.  As well as performances of the play, there will be post-performance discussions on Oct. 24 and Nov. 1 lead by Slowiak; Will Schuck, director of the Sherwood Anderson Literary Center; Margaret Lynch, co-director of the Cleveland Theater Collective; and UA Professor Tom Dukes.  On Saturday, Nov. 1 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. there will be a workshop on physical theatre and adapting literature for the stage. These activities are made possible by a grant from the Ohio Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

 

Winesburg, Ohio will be presented at Oberlin College on December 7, and at The University of Akrons Wayne College in Orrville on Nov. 15.

 

Tickets are $8 for general admission and $5 for senior citizens, UA faculty and staff, and students. Tickets can be purchased at the Guzzetta Hall box office Monday through Friday during performance weeks from noon until 4 p.m., or one hour before each performance. For reservations call 330-972-7895.  Visit www.uakron.edu/dtaa for more information.

 

Study Guide

 

 

 

Winesburg, Ohio

 

 

 

 

Based on the Novel by Sherwood Anderson

Adapted by James Slowiak,

New World Performance Lab,

and the Creating Performance class

 

 

 

 

 

Produced by

The University of Akron

School of Dance, Theatre, and Arts Administration

 

 

Sandefur Theatre

Guzzetta Hall

October 22 November 1, 2003

 

Sherwood Anderson, A Brief Biography

1876-1941

One day in Sherwood Anderson's life, Nov. 28, 1912, has assumed mythic proportions in the story of American literature. This was the day Anderson "left business for literature," simply walking out of his office as president of the Anderson Manufacturing Co. (Home of "Roof-Fix Cure for Roof Troubles") in Elyria, Ohio, not only giving up a dream of becoming rich in American business, but also abandoning his responsibilities as a middle-class citizen and his obligations toward his wife and three small children.

Although this account oversimplifies a process that took several messy, frequently unhappy years, it is nevertheless true in spirit, making Anderson the best-known archetype of the gifted American caught between the pull of riches, success, respectability, and family responsibility on the one hand and the call of creativity, probably to be accompanied by penury and disappointment, on the other.

Anderson was born into a poor family in Camden, Ohio, on Sept. 13, 1876, but spent his formative years in the town of Clyde, Ohio, which inspired the setting of many of his stories. He worked in Chicago as a laborer in 1896-1898, then served in the Spanish American War. He attended Wittenberg Academy in Springfield, Ohio, in 1900, then went to Chicago, where he soon gained some success as an advertising writer.

In 1904, he married Cornelia Lane of Toledo, fathered two sons and a daughter during the next several years, and displayed unusual talent for success in the mail-order paint business. Following a difficult period of marital and business problems, he suffered a psychological crisis, which led to his leaving this business and his family and returning to Chicago to pursue a writing career.

In 1916, Anderson divorced Cornelia and married Tennessee Mitchell. He also published his first novel that year, Windy McPhersons Son. Then he gained wide recognition with the publication in 1919 of Winesburg, Ohio. This book made Anderson a revolutionary force in both the form and subject matter of the American short story. During this time, he also published Marching Men (1917). Among the other notable books published by Anderson at the height of his reputation in the early 1920s were the novel Poor White (1920), the story collections The Triumph of the Egg (1921) and Horses and Men (1923), and the autobiographical A Story Teller's Story (1924).

His marriage to Tennessee was not a success, and in 1922 he left Chicago for New York, then Reno, Nevada. After his second divorce in 1924, he married Elizabeth Prall, and they moved to New Orleans. During this period he wrote Many Marriages (1923) and Dark Laughter (1925).

In the summer of 1925, the Andersons vacationed in Troutdale, Virginia.  Anderson  liked the Grayson County area so much that he bought farmland beside Ripshin Creek, about four miles out of Troutdale, and built a house that he called Ripshin. In the fall of 1927, he purchased the Marion Publishing Company, in Marion, Virginia, 22 miles to the northwest, and became editor and publisher of two weekly newspapers, articles from which were collected in a 1929 book, Hello Towns. He and Elizabeth separated in late 1928, and in 1933 he married Eleanor Copenhaver, a Marion native and national YWCA official. Under her influence, the writer traveled throughout the South, touring factories and studying labor conditions. Their marriage proved to be a happy one.

In the 1930s, Anderson began to write about labor conditions in the South. Among his publications in the 1930s are Beyond Desire (1932); Death in the Woods and Other Stories (1933); Puzzled America, a book of essays based upon his extensive travels throughout the United States (1935); and Kit Brandon, a novel (1936).

During this time, Anderson spent summers at Ripshin. He and Eleanor usually traveled extensively the rest of the year. They were en route to South America when he died of peritonitis in Colon, Panama, on March 8, 1941. Anderson never lost his zest for life, and his epitaph in Marion's Round Hill Cemetery proclaims, as he directed, that "Life, Not Death, Is the Great Adventure." The unusual gravemarker was designed by artist Wharton Esherick.

Sherwood Anderson was a major influence on a younger generation of important writers, including Faulkner, Hemingway, Wolfe, Steinbeck, and others, both through his writings and his acts of personal kindness. It was through his influence, for example, that the first books of both Faulkner and Hemingway were published.

 

 

Will Schuck, Director

The Sherwood Anderson Literary Center

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Novel

 

 

Winesburg, Ohio, written by Sherwood Anderson and first published in 1919, has elementsstructural, thematic and stylisticthat anticipated the work of several of the literary giants of the mid-twentieth century.  Although it is clearly a novel, Anderson structured the piece in such a way that it almost seems to be a series of short stories. 

 

The work begins with a prologue, The Book of the Grotesque, written, the narrator tells us, by an old man consumed with thoughts of dyingthoughts that, strangely, seem to keep him young.  As the characters of his life pass before his eyes, he begins to write, examining them in terms of the truths that motivated their lives.  While each person clings to at least one truth, the old man realizes that anyone who bases a life on a single truth, no matter what it is, becomes a grotesque.

 

The strange mood set in the prologue carries through to the stories of the residents of Winesburg, Ohio.  Like the old man facing death, each subsequent character that we meet is revealed at a clarifying moment.  Each seems to have grasped some truth, but in so doing many of them have become in some way grotesque.

 

Anderson unifies the novel by means of the figure of George Willard, a young newspaperman and writer who develops into an adult over the course of the novel.  Willard appears in fifteen of the twenty-four stories.  In the early chapters he relates to the characters as a listener, and to the reader as a filter.  In the later chapters, he emerges as an alternative to the grotesques. His decision to leave Winesburg and the people he has known since childhood, recounted in the chapter Departure, brings the novel to a close.  

 

Themes that recur throughout the work include:

 

The desperation brought on by alienation and loneliness, and the disillusionment brought on by a belief in the importance and possibility of finding true love and happiness.

 

The place of man in societya society violently in flux after the First World War, even in a small, isolated, rural town.

 

The necessity of finding a way to integrate unadorned reality with fantasy, dreams, and idealism. 

 

Winesburg, Ohio is a gritty, often harshly realistic novel.  The lasting reputation of this work is due to its fascinating characters and engaging stories.  It is also due to Andersons success at writing in specific voices speaking everyday, Midwestern speechspeech that is natural to the residents of Winesburg. Three of the greatest American writers of the mid-twentieth centuryWilliam Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeckacknowledged the influence of Sherwood Anderson on their work.

 

The Performance

 

What is Winesburg, Ohio? It is a community that transcends time and space. Winesburg, Ohio is a place where human beings struggle to know themselves, to recognize the beautiful young thing that burns inside each of us. It is a landscape of passions and failings, of rebellion and compromise, of life and death, and death in life. In this production, a collaboration of students from The University of Akron and members of the New World Performance Laboratory, we do not focus on a Winesburg of the past. We have not looked with nostalgia for the good old ways and days that Winesburg often represents for many readers. Instead we have chosen to confront Andersons stories from our own experience and as a vehicle to comprehend our own lives and the terrifying silence each of us faces daily.

 

David Mamet says, "We respond to a drama to that extent to which it corresponds to our dream life." In this rendering of Sherwood Andersons book, Winesburg becomes a kaleidoscope reflecting a fractured human experience that extends over the last hundred years and beyond. Our Winesburg is a dream landscape, a ritual space where human stories are enacted in order to heal and reunite the larger community. Anderson originally had intended to title his collection of stories, The Book of the Grotesque. The word grotesque derives from the Italian word Grotto because on the walls of grottos (or caves) ancient artists sometimes drew human figures that were distorted, exaggerated, or even ugly.  Writer John Pfeiffer conjectures that our ancestors created precise ritual structures inside the caves. They used dance, song, rhythm, and lighting to enhance the images on the walls and to stimulate the spectators associations, in an attempt to prepare them to survive the difficult times ahead.

 

In the theatre space tonight, a group of ten storytellers gathers, as in church or an ancient cave, to tell some stories. They examine the collapse of certain archetypal patterns of human existence --  compassion, courage, sacrifice, initiation, and rebirth. They lament the dominant cultural value of materialism that has brought about an era of alienation and isolation. They celebrate the diversity and stamina of the human spirit. They plead for understanding and justice. They confront demons and embrace love. The ten storytellers attempt, in a visceral and aural manner, to awaken themselves from the anesthesia of modern day living and to engage in true communion.

 

Is this Sherwood Andersons Winesburg, Ohio? Since Anderson was a true storyteller, I think he would say yes! Because we have made it ours.  And now we are waiting for you to join us there. See you in Winesburg, Ohio.

 

 

                                                                        James Slowiak, Professor of Theatre

                                                                        The University of Akron

 

 

 

The Process

 

 

Near the beginning of the rehearsal process, Jim Slowiak and Jairo Cuesta, co-directors of the New World Performance Laboratory, sat down to talk about the Winesburg, Ohio project with writer Margaret Lynch. 

 

 

 

Q.  Jim, how did you decide to work on Winesburg, Ohio?

 

Jim Slowiak:  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was looking for material that would work with Shaker musicthe 19th century American music that the New World Performance Laboratory (NWPL) was exploring at the time.  I looked at Winesburg, Ohio.  I had no previous connection with it.  But I was very taken with the prologue called The Book of the Grotesque, and with the way Sherwood Anderson described how people become grotesque.  NWPL workshops often focus on a process of  looking at the self, especially at how we often get stuck in our own identities.  We began to work on Winesburg,Ohio within the company. 

 

In the summer of 1996, I received a summer fellowship from The University of Akron to research more thoroughly how to adapt the material for the stage.  We began to use Winesburg, Ohio as material for workshops in Italy and Colombia.  We also kept working on it within the company, but the configuration of the company was never quite right to bring the project to fruition.  Then the Kentucky-based Roadside Theater did a residency at the University of Akron about grassroots theatre and storytelling techniques. The students were very interested in doing more work in this arena, and this production is the outcome. 

 

Q.  What draws you to the work, Jairo?

 

Jairo Cuesta: The process of the actors work interests me.  When actors confront the material of Winesburg, Ohio they confront their own personal difficulties.   They have to discover their connection with their bodies, with themselves, and with others.  If an actor thinks he or she knows something, they think they have a truth.  But when you base your work on the thing you think you know, your work becomes grotesque -- just as Sherwood Anderson said about life.  This kind of individual truth doesnt stand up in front of the others you are working with.  Instead, each actor has to develop in relation with the others.  All must grow together, within the same company.  The book is almost an instruction manual for working on yourself as an actor. 

 

Q.  How did workshop participants in such far-flung places as Italy, Colombia and Akron relate to this very American story?  What is universal about it and what is more specifically American?

 

Jim Slowiak: We find that Winesburg is a universal village. The Europeans and Latin Americans identify with it too.  Anderson is writing about the failure of absolute truth -- at how basing your existence on an absolute truth turns the truth into a lie.  He is examining such universal archetypes as initiation, sacrifice, and rebirth. 

 

Jairo Cuesta: Of course, many elements are very American. 

 

Jim Slowiak: Anderson is critiquing American values, such as the dominance of capitalism and  materialism.  Even 100 years ago, he saw that we Americans were already cutting ourselves off from our relationship with nature.  Nature is present in Andersons stories. Its essential and important, but not romanticized.  Anderson mocks romantic, pastoral sentimentality. 

 

Jairo Cuesta: But in our company, whether we are in Italy or Colombia or Poland, we always work in relationship with nature. We often conduct our workshops outdoors, in natural settings. We have been working with Latin writers such as Juan Rulfo and we are exploring the same thing the ways in which the inner life confronts the outside world. 

 

Q.  Why did you choose not to adapt Andersons story in a realistic style?

 

Jim Slowiak: Sherwood Anderson had a very close relationship with Gertrude Stein. She admired his writing and saw beyond the realistic surface of it. Most of the previous stage adaptations of Winesburg, Ohio, even Andersons own, emphasized realism and presented the material as a folksy soap opera.  In my view, they missed the fantastic and surreal elements.  For one thing, the story is very episodic.

 

Jairo Cuesta: And its not the story of one hero, but the story of a community, of all these different people. 

 

Jim Slowiak: Its something I was trying to avoid in the rehearsal process: I didnt want to fall into the trap of nostalgia.  I wanted to explore how it might be possible to bring out the more dream-like structure of the piece, the ways in which it does not follow the logic of daily life.  I wanted the production to work the way an artist thinks: one story is a song, the next story is a radio play.  There is a logic to that; its not just random, but the logic is in the inspiration of the artist.  Its the logic of George, as a writer, trying to figure out how to tell these stories. 

 

Q.  How closely did you adhere to Sherwood Andersons words and structure?

 

Jim Slowiak: We tried to keep very close to Sherwood Andersons language and his way of ordering the stories.  But at the same time, as we worked on the material, we also drew on our own American pop cultural icons.  For instance, as we read one story, everyone in the rehearsal process reacted, This is Raymond Chandler.  We used Andersons words, but we shaped the story as a detective story.  So were telling the story from our perspective as well as from Sherwood Andersons. 

 

Q.  When did you decide to incorporate music into the production?

 

Jim Slowiak:  While conducting research during the summer of 1996, I discovered that Anderson had also written Walt Whitman-esque poems.  When one of our students, Megan Elk, wanted to write music for the production, she also discovered Andersons Mid America Chants independently on her own.  Five or six of the chants are used as the basis for songs in the production.  Other songs are based on language from the stories themselves.  Theres a lot of music. It fits in with our presentational method of storytelling.  Megan has tried to capture a harmonic sense of the Mid-West in her compositions.  She has borrowed from various traditional sources, including Sacred Harp, plainsong, chant, and repetition to create a soundscape inspired by the landscape of Northeastern Ohio itself.  The music blends with the other elements of the performance to form the basis for something old and sacred, but also contemporary and dissonant, a community trying to tell its stories, to transmit its wisdom.