Turn the Washpot Down

In the Spring and Summer of 2002 I was pleased to participate in what has to have been the largest, most complex, (and frankly, historic) effort I'd ever seen in community theatre, Turn the Washpot Down. Art Sutton, owner of local radio station WBCU, had heard about an effort called "Swamp Gravy" in Colquitt, Georgia, and thought that such a thing might be just the thing for the little town of Union, South Carolina.

Just a few short years before, the case of Susan Smith drowning her two young boys had dominated the national headlines, and Art was looking for something that would show Union in a positive light and dull the perceptions of that tragic incident in the minds of the public.

To achieve his goal he created the Boogaloo Broadcasting Company and contacted Richard Geer, of Community Performance, Inc. Richard developed a thesis in college that communities could be brought together and improved through the vehicle of community theatre; and has spent the bulk of his time since bringing his ideas to life. CPI provided us with a plan of action for the community effort, and with assistance with this, our first production.

One Saturday in late March of 2002 I got a call from my brother Everett to come audition for a part in a play (this was the first I'd heard of it). Ev knew of my interest in drama, and he shares it, having been in a number of productions himself. I auditioned, and was awarded the part of "Young Robert", about whom you'll read more shortly.

As I said, at the time of the rehearsal, I knew absolutely nothing about the production. It had, however, been in the planning stages for quite some time. Jules Corriere, the excellent playwright, had visited Union to collect stories which were used as the basis of the narrative. I'd better stop a moment and explain that this is a very complex production, and not at all easy to describe. Basically, Jules collected a number of true stories and folk tales, then wove them into several intertwining stories bound by a common thread. In this case, the thread was the Washpot.

My grandmother was eight when the war started and maybe twelve when she was freed on paper. Toward the end of the war, they weren’t supposed to worship together, the slaves. Folks left were afraid if the slaves got together, they’d all leave at once. Or maybe worse. They couldn’t go to church anymore. So, they’d go into the woods. They’d worship in the brush arbors, carrying a wash pot with ‘em. They’d turn the wash pot down. They thought the wash pot would do something with the sound, kinda deaden the sound.

I never did understand what a wash pot had to do with it, ‘bout them turning a wash pot down to keep the sound from going. I didn’t know if it was true, if they had a big enough wash pot to do that, or if it was just something they believed in, something they had to believe in, to make it OK to risk coming together. The wash pot was to keep the sound from going back to where it was supposed to be.
-- story adapted by Jules Corriere

The above story is told by the narrator of the story..."the Arbor Woman." Turn the Washpot Down revolves around a number of characters who are spiritually trapped in an Arbor. You hear of their troubled past and see how it affects their present lives. Their spirits are freed, each in turn, when they allow the washpot to be turned up so their stories can escape and be told.

There are a number of such stories: the talented bus driver who had to come to terms with his vanished dreams of Nashville stardom; the young girl who reminisces about her father's death and her mother's strength; the war hero who was declared to be a deserter through an administrative mix-up; the first black man to hold a management position in a textile mill. I played "Young Robert", who's father died early, leaving him with an uncaring mother who was only too glad to see him shipped off to fight in World War II... at the age of fifteen. While Young Robert broods in the Arbor, his older self is captured by the notion of finding lost Confederate gold. The play leaves us with the message that the most precious treasures we have aren't mined; they're nurtured.


This was a great production to work on, and the CPI team were great people to work with. For our production we needed to create a faux forest on the stage, so Richard, Jules, Joe Varga and I took a little field trip into the woods with a saw and axe. We spent the better part of an afternoon selecting aesthetically pleasing saplings, then stripping them of leaves (if we'd left them on they'd have wilted. So they were stripped and replaced by thousands of silk leaves). Then came the wonderful part of screwing the trees to the stage and rafters. One nice thing about this crew is that when it was time to get down to the dirty work they were the first to roll up their sleeves.

By the way, I'll stop for just a moment to lavish a bit of praise on Joe Varga, one of the nicest and most creative gents you might meet. It was Joe who conceived of our unique multi-level stage with arbor and whose talents transformed board, stick, sapling, and silk into a place of wonder. When we needed a safe way to simulate a rock fight by the river, it was Joe who sat with the local kids teaching them how to make "stones" from paper bags, glue, and a bit of granite paint; and it was Joe who made a plastic pot from Wal-Mart look the part of a hundred year old cast iron washpot. I provided some special effects.

CPI introduced me to a technique I'd never seen used before, but which I'm quite eager to use again; a dual cast. Many of the parts were cast with two actors, who played on alternate nights. Not only does this ease scheduling, but it enabled us to recover in the event that one cast member could not go on. This is really superior to using understudies in that the alternates actually do get stage time and are thus better prepared in the event of an emergency. I only wish that more parts (namely mine) could have been double-cast, since I'd have liked to see the production myself as an audience member. (It would have enabled me to take more pictures to include on this page, for one thing!)

Our local cast was superb. Unfortunately, I'll have to continue their story next time I update this page, as I've run short of time. I will make special mention of one, George Gregory, one of the actors who played the older version of my character. I just learned that George passed away recently (in February, 2002); he will be missed.

2002 Reviews



PRODUCTION STAFF

Executive Director: Richard Owen Geer
Playwright: Jules Corriere
County-wide Co-ordinator: Ola Jean Kelly
Producers: Betsy Vanderford
Jane Wilkes
Local Director: Ralph Lawson
Stage Manager: Tara Malpass
Costumes: Louey
Musical Director: Buddy Wilkes
Lighting Designer: Brackley Frayer
Composer: Don McCullough
Lyricist: Denny Clark
Choreographer: Kevin Iega Jeff
Set Designer: Joe Varga

CAST OF CHARACTERS
arranged by scene
(if I have any of these wrong just let me know so I can correct it)

CHARACTER CAST 1 CAST 2

Washpot
Arbor Woman Kesha Watson Sarah Thomas
Arbor Child Deonica Thomas Myia McClurkin
Young Freddie Benji Fleming Jason Rector
Pot Women
Woman Eleanor Lynn Nancy Browning
Young Robert Dave Leigh

The Happy Bus
Carlisle Henderson Everett Leigh
Ed Jim Stepp Chris
Driver /
Mill manager
Freddie Vanderford
Bus Woman Katherine Holden Kathy Stepp
Young Leroy Michael Smallwood
Old Leroy Anthony Lipsey

A Good Trade
Ashley Kayla Reid
Tangle Eye Trey Lawson
Bull William Leigh Adam Kyle Reid
Shine
Billy Kendall McClurkin E.J. Wade
Glen Collin Foster

Lost Gold
Arbor Woman Kesha Watson Sarah Thomas
Arbor Child Deonica Thomas Myia McClurkin
Chase Amber Moore Brooke Blackwood
Old Robert George Gregory Hollis Champion
Young Robert Dave Leigh
Old George

Guadalcanal
Old George
Young George Derek Vanderford Field Canty
Essie Katie Holden Nicole Buchanon
Doctor Caroline Williams George Holloway
Buddy Phillip Mullinex Richard Collins
Bus Woman Katherine Holden Kathy Stepp
Nat Thad Palmer
Sherrif /
General /
Bus Driver
Freddie Vanderford
Inez Cathy Robinson Dale Anthony
Charlie Robbie Littlejohn Ron Holden

Patriotic
Clarice Nanette Jenkins Beverly Smith
Ruby Janet Lawson Louey Speer

Conversation
Young Robert Dave Leigh
Arbor Woman Kesha Watson Sarah Thomas
Arbor Child Deonica Thomas Myia McClurkin

Blackberry Wine
Old Bill Ron Holden Roger Worley
Young James Jacob Freeman Patrick Greer
Young Bill Rob Littlejohn Taylor Smith
Mother Frances Patterson
Bad Eye Rash P. Martin Thompson Keiston Stevens
Donny Timothy Leigh John Nick Gault
Ozzy Michael Leigh Casey Woodward
Lucille Bess Lawson Casey Woodard
Pinky Kayla Sprouse
Shorty Alyssa Peake

Stolen Car
Carlisle Henderson Everett Leigh
Barbara Rippey Nancy Browning Neely Palmer
Delores Kristi Sommer Katie Langley

Lost Gold Part II
Grace Harriet Cohen Betsy Vanderford
Chase Amber Moore Brooke Blackwood
Old Robert George Gregory Hollis Champion
Young Robert Dave Leigh
Old George

My Blue Shirt
Carlisle Henderson Everett Leigh
Ed Jim Stepp Chris
Announcer Josh Moore Jud Craft
Delores Kristi Sommer Katie Langley

Patsy Cline Hair
Cricket Taylor Baker Rebecca Painter
Hibo Whitney Vaughan Meghan Howell
Lick Lindsey Connolly Jamie Fore
Tiny Raven Robinson Nicole Grady
Half-pint Bess Lawson Casey Woodard

Drive the Bus
Young Freddie Benji Fleming Jason Rector
Arbor Woman Kesha Watson Sarah Thomas
Bus Driver Freddie Vanderford
Guitarist Brandon
Bus Woman Katherine Holden Kathy Stepp

Further
Arbor Woman Kesha Watson Sarah Thomas
Young Leroy Michael Smallwood
Old Leroy Anthony Lipsey
Bus Driver Freddie Vanderford

D.J. Replacement
Mother Lorri Todd Emily Russell
Birdie Laura Lee Todd Ellen Gregory
Disc Jockey Richard Collins Thad Palmer
Carlisle Henderson Everett Leigh
Ed Jim Stepp Chris
Delores Kristi Sommer Katie Langley

Parents
Essie Katie Holden Nichole Buchanon

Orphan
Young Robert Dave Leigh
Arbor Woman Kesha Watson Sarah Thomas
Arbor Child Deonica Thomas Myia McClurkin

Living Memory
Woman 1 Codie Little Denise Tibbs
Woman 2 Lucretia Peake Amethette Kershaw
Woman 3 Kim Thompson
Child 1 Alyssa Peake
Child 2 Kendall McClurkin
Arbor Woman Kesha Watson Sarah Thomas
Arbor Child Deonica Thomas Myia McClurkin
Grandmother Janie Goree

Robert's Answer
Young Robert Dave Leigh
Arbor Child Deonica Thomas Myia McClurkin

Final Lost Gold
Chase Amber Moore Brooke Blackwood
Arbor Woman Kesha Watson Sarah Thomas
Arbor Child Deonica Thomas Myia McClurkin
Young Robert Dave Leigh
Old Robert George Gregory Hollis Champion
Old Leroy Anthony Lipsey