BWW Previews: HISTORY IS BROUGHT TO LIFE THROUGH REAL LETTERS AND SONG at Silver Meteor Gallery
Imagine emptying your parents' home after their passing and storing unopened boxes marked letters.
Upon retrieving these boxes several years later, you discover a time capsule filled with a scrapbook of your father's handwritten letters and your mother's carbon-copied typed letters exchanged during The Spanish Civil War, a precursor to WWII.
After reading the historic documents, you decide to transform their words into a short play interwoven with readings from the letters, paired with multinational music that would have been heard during the war.
Playwrights Dan and Molly Watt poured over the letters, learning about Dan's parents' efforts to fight fascism. George Watt served in the Lincoln Battalion in Spain and Ruth Watt, stateside, worked for the WPA in New York, organizing public support, peaceful protests and demonstrations, and sending care packages to the soldiers in Spain.
"We found a scrapbook of all the letters my father had sent my mother before I was born. At the very bottom of the box, there was a two- inch stack of typing paper which had carbon copies of the letters my mother had written to my father," said Dan.
While at work, Ruth would type George daily letters. Much like social media of today, the letters served as the news and entertainment exchange between the two newlyweds far apart from one another.
"We had two sides of a conversation which is so unusual," said Molly. "His mother had access to a typewriter on her lunch hour, so she wrote about what was going on politically, but also about New York City, the movies she was seeing and all kinds of stuff."
Fifteen years ago, Molly and Dan chose the excerpts, while friend and folk singer Tony Saletan gathered all the music he knew of Spanish Civil War. They put together a show and performed a slice of history.
"We wove the conversation together with the nice arc that they had only been married at very short time - 1 year - and were passionately in love still," said Molly. "There was a war and it was horrible, but they believed in the war against fascism, so it was passionate that way too."
Dan added, "These young writers had a great sense of humor and they were not utterly serious. Part of what makes this work is it is not one political diatribe after another, it's real people who are entertaining each other by telling stories."
On August 17 to August 27, at the Silver Meteor Gallery, producer Michael Murphy debuts the love story of these activist newlyweds, performed for the first time - not by the playwrights.
Directed by Jo Averill-Snell, "George & Ruth" - Songs and Letters of the Spanish Civil War entertains with excerpts from their letters, with songs of the Spanish Civil War and other political causes in the U.S., against the backdrop of war.
"We were doing this show to commemorate the Spanish Civil War, but in the last couple of days, the actions of our characters, the choices that they make and why they make them are really strikingly relatable to current events," said Jo. "George and Ruth were real people. They have this really strong, beautiful relationship and their both passionate, idealistic people with practical goals of how to make the world better. George is willing to put life on the line to make that happen. And this is not a story where Ruth is sitting at home waiting for him; Ruth is working too."
"George & Ruth" - Songs and Letters of the Spanish Civil War star Jeffrey M. Lukas and Katherine Stenzel.
"Katherine is a local performer and classically trained opera singer who sings with Opera Tampa and Jeff is regional theatre actor who is often the lead in huge cast musicals. I have these performers who are already fluent in singing in different languages and they have amazing voices," said Jo. "Both in work and in love, Ruth and George were so blessed and they put their all into everything. I really want people to walk away (from the show) thinking they could have in their lives what George and Ruth had."
The playwright's next project is to publish the play, to have it go out into the world to educate and enlighten.
"George and Ruth are real people in their early 20s who were trying to set something right in the world. I want people to walk away thinking about taking on a big wrong and trying to make it right in the world. You don't have to be old - you can be all kinds of ages - young people have changed the world by their commitment and I want to inspire them to action," said Molly. "The audience always connects our show with the issues going on today. It's very relevant. We want to provoke that kind of connection. These letter glorify democracy, but they don't glorify war. They show it for its ugliness and its cost."
"George & Ruth" - Songs and Letters of the Spanish Civil War runs from August 17-27 at Silver Meteor Gallery, 2213 East 6th Avenue, Tampa. Tickets are $15 and available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/george-ruth-tickets-36637642174.