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Reflection on Spark in Houston

Stages Repertory Theatre, Houston, TX

November 11,  7 pm 2012

Directed by Eva LaPorte

                                 by Kristen Wright

When I was first asked to serve as a dramaturg on Stages Repertory Theatre's reading of Caridad Svich's SPARK, I knew that I would be in for a treat. My first introduction to Svich's work came when I stumbled upon excerpts from her play PRODIGAL KISS. At the time, I was drawn in by her seductive rhythms, and her ear for dialogue. And when I first read SPARK, the voices of the Glimord sisters immediately stood out for me, even before I began to pull the play's many complicated strands together.

And even though I enjoyed the music of the sisters' voices, I still wanted to place the play in a particular location. When I first met with the reading's director, Eva Laporte, to discuss the script, my first instinct was Virginia. (Because of all the tobacco references). Eva thought it was North Carolina, and Google later confirmed that she was correct.

Our first rehearsal brought up many other questions. There were the expected ones: Flo Garvey, the actress playing Lexie, wanted to know how to pronounce the names of the cities in which every major American conflict since the Civil War has been fought. (The way that whole exchange unfolds between Lexie and Vaughn is great writing). But the rehearsal also produced many important questions: What is the role of gender in the military? Are the poor often asked to fight battles for the rich? Is Vaughn Lexie's long-lost father, or a mythic representation of soldiers past, present, and future?

Armed with all of these questions, I set off to create an actor packet that would guide the cast through this process. I used many of the wonderful resources that Zac Kline had already gathered for the NoPassport website, and my fascination with the play's sense of place lead me to the lyrics of John Loudermilk's 1960 song "Tobacco Road," a reference to a neighborhood in East Durham, North Carolina. Fascinated by this finding, I placed the lyrics to the entire song in the packet. (I imagine subsequent productions of SPARK taking place in East Durham. I'm not sure if this is what Caridad wants, but it fascinated me).

Slightly over a week after the rehearsal process began, we held the reading. The reading was intimate, followed by and illuminating Q and A session led by Eva. Many of the audience responses concerned the role of the male characters in the play. Poor men and male veterans are often portrayed as damaged goods, but both Hector and Vaughn provide needed counsel to the Glimord sisters. Even the town ne'er-do-well, Barry, is available to "shoot the shit" with Lexie when she needs him. One person even said that Vaughn's compassion comes from the fact that he has observed war firsthand. Representatives from the Houston Area Women's Center set up a table in the theatre's lobby, and their presence goes to show that we need better resources to help female veterans transition from military to civilian life.

As an early-career dramaturg-playwright, it was an honor to work on this play. I hope to work with the team at Stages - and on more of Caridad's plays! - very soon.

Kristen Wright is  a 2012 graduate of Yale College in New Haven, CT, where she received a BA in Theater Studies and Political Science. She currently serves as the Education Assistant at the Alley Theatre in Houston, TX, and was previously an Education and Community Engagement Intern at the Alley. Kristen is also a freelance dramaturg and playwright in the Houston area.