Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Long Ago Shooting

Up From the Ashes

Over a half century ago, when I was a junior at Oak Ridge High School in Tennessee, my close friend Anita Barker’s parents were shot to death by Anita’s estranged brother-in-law.

Oak Ridge was a unique town, established as a part of the Manhattan Project during the Second World War and operated and guarded by the military. After the war, eventually the town became independent but it was still a safe place. Of course, in the nineteen fifties the entire country was very different. What happened when Bob Duke walked into the Barker house and gunned down three people (the third person was Anita’s other brother-in-law, who lingered in agony for several months before succumbing to his horrific wounds) was a terrible shock to the entire town. The three Barker daughters, of whom Anita was the youngest, were orphaned in mere minutes that night.

Anita was a talented girl who aspired to be a singer and actress. The shooting happened the weekend before auditions for the annual high school musical, which was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel that year. Since she’d had a nice supporting role the year before, Anita was hoping for a lead in her senior year and it seemed she had a good chance to earn one of the three female principal roles.

The directors, primarily the school’s chorus and orchestra teacher, chose to reschedule the auditions so that Anita would have a chance to audition. She won the leading role of Julie Jordan. Seeing how being immersed in the musical drama helped Anita through the most difficult period of her young life – she was eighteen ─ had an impact on me that I only fully realized decades later.

My part in her drama was peripheral. I didn’t have to bury my parents and go on stage some seven weeks later in an emotionally draining role. But my family and I did everything we could for her, all the while feeling helpless. It was a journey she and her sisters had to take by themselves.

I learned only recently the terrible toll those events took on Anita for the rest of her life. She died of breast cancer while in her fifties. I feel sure there was little if any understanding of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at the time. I doubt Anita received the help she so badly needed. While she had not been home at the time of the shooting, her world was blown apart.

Directing a high school production of Carousel – a musical which deals with life and death ─ in 1994 brought her very much to mind. And a second production two years ago, in the same high school, made me think even more about what she had been through. Each time I directed Carousel I shared Anita’s story with my cast, and it added depth to their performances.

It was that second production that opened my eyes to how much I had been affected by being with her during that experience. I keep saying I wasn’t “directly affected,” but I certainly was changed. I looked at the world differently. I thought more about death and its aftermath, and realized at a very young age how fragile and uncertain life is. People were not supposed to die suddenly and violently while they were still young. Yet I had attended a funeral of two such people, people I had seen only a short time before, when I was barely sixteen.

But at the same time, seeing my friend’s strength and courage bolstered by her participation in Carousel, I also became aware of the healing power of creativity, particularly of music. I think the experience helped me understand beyond question that music was my calling, and it has been my life.

To see the extent to which gun violence has burgeoned in this country during the past decades is saddening and distressing. To think how many young people these days have to deal with these events and their aftermath is – I can’t even find the right word. Horrific. Awful. Unthinkable.

The remarkable group of twenty-first century young men and women I directed in 2013 performed Carousel with love, respect, and skill, moving their audiences at each performance with the beautiful story. Not long after that production, I wrote my first book, How I Grew Up, giving Anita, finally, a voice to tell her story.

From the pages of that first novel came two additional stories of young people who had been part of that Carousel production. I am in the process of making slight revisions in How I Grew Up to tie it more closely to Eli’s Heart and You Are My Song. While the books are stand alone stories, they all began in that brief period when a group of young people shared an intense, life-changing experience. How I Grew Up with be re-released in early November as the first book in “The Carousel Trilogy.” These are coming of age stories of young men and women who face challenges with courage and hope. Music is very much part of their lives – and part of their courage.

 Cover designs by Tristan Flanagan


Friday, July 24, 2015

Decisions, Decisions

To iPhone6 or not to iPhone6 … that is the question

Now that my iPhone 4S and I seem to be getting along better, I’m eligible for an upgrade. I went virtual shopping and found that I qualify for several different cell phones – the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, Galaxy 6. I didn’t even know what a Galaxy was but a little research told me it’s a Samsung product and people who use it love it.

Hmmm. Being the queen of procrastination I haven’t yet decided what to do about this. There’s no rush, it took me a long time to get that 4S two years ago but I am glad I did. I love my iPhone. Unlike today’s generation, I don’t panic if I forget to take it with me when I leave my house, but I admit it does feel a little odd to be out of touch with the world for a couple of hours. For most of my life I survived nicely with a land line (and when I learned that term it was a milestone).

There were undoubtedly times in my life when having a cell phone would have been extremely helpful. What prompted my first cell phone purchase was being in a situation where I was waiting for someone, actually at a resort, and I was unable to call her because every pay phone I found at the resort wasn’t working. Unbelievable. The nasty weather had turned into an ice storm and I felt reasonably sure she wasn’t able to get out of her development (we have them here in the Poconos) but I didn’t want to turn around until I confirmed that.

Eventually I bought the 4S and wondered why I had waited so long to jump on the bandwagon. And I was sure I’d just upgrade to the 6 or 6 Plus. Until I put out a query on my Facebook page – you know the drill, picking your Facebook friends’ brains about a decision you have to make. All of this still makes me sit back and think seriously? We really can do this nowadays? How the world has changed in the past fifty years! Heck, in the past twenty years!

Well, my kind friends rushed to offer me advice, and now I am thoroughly confused. Here’s a small sample:

I didn't think I'd like giving up my 4s, but I have an iPhone 6 now, and I love it! I thought the plus would be too big as I use my pockets a lot.

I loved my 4s and I was skeptical about upgrading but I also now love my 6!

(Many comments similar to these.)

One of my favorite suggestions came in the form of a picture from Lucia:


 Anyway, many, many plugs for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. Then I got this from Tom Lehman, who is singing opera in Berlin (another thing that boggles my mind, instant group discussions from anywhere in the world!):
  The better phone, technically, is the Samsung. But because you are used to the iOS architecture, you should get the 6. 

This sounded a little like a challenge, especially when followed by:
The Samsung Note 4 is the best phone on the market. I have a Note 2 that is 3 years old and still out performs the IP 6 platforms---which are just now catching up in size. Tom is right. The Samsung is the superior phone but if you’re used to the Apple's simplistic platform and functions, stick with it. But if I were you, I’d wait a few more months and get the Note 5 when it comes out. it will be 3-4 years ahead of the IP6, easily.
Now that, coming from Telly Halkias, a fellow writer whom I greatly admire, was definitely a challenge.

Dilemma. Then another friend, Kate, gave me this wonderful out, and a reason to continue to procrastinate:
 You might consider doing what I'm going to do -- wait until September when the updated version of the 6 is released (it'll probably be a 6s). It's supposed to have some nice improvements.

So as long as my iPhone 4S is behaving itself, I am going to refrain from moving to actual shopping and wait for September.

Well, it’s not that far away.

another suggestion from Lucia

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Our Trip to CAMELOT

More about my book in progress, “More Fog, Please!” – 31 Years Directing Community and High Schol Musicals. Here’s an excerpt from the chapter on Camelot. (The chapter begins with my director’s note for the production and I’ve reproduced a section of that to start this blog post.)

     Of all the myths and legends that are part of our cultural heritage, none catches and holds our imagination more than the stories of King Arthur. The “once and future king” is presented as a ruler of vision, justice, and nobility, brought to a tragic end by those he loves most.
     The tales of Arthur and his knights are far too many to be telescoped into an evening of theater. Alan Jay Lerner, in writing the book (or dialogue ) for Camelot, took some material from T. H. White’s book, The Once and Future King. (King Pellinore, as he appears on stage, is taken almost verbatim from White.) He also adapted some material from other sources, concentrating on Arthur’s attempt to establish a just kingdom in the midst of a chaotic historical period, and on the story of Arthur, Lancelot, and Guinevere. Arthur’s illegitimate son, Mordred, also plays a key role in the story.
     Every age looks for heroes to admire and to emulate. Because of his courage, and in particular his courage to forgive – and love those he forgave – Arthur is a hero for all time. In this imperfect world, neither Arthur nor his kingdom could long survive, but

Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief, shining moment
That was known as Camelot.
Susan Jordan
Pocono Lively Arts (Stroudsburg High School)
July, 1991

     It is quite a journey from the Fairy Godmother and Cinderella to Merlin, Morgan Le Fay, Nimue and Camelot, but the wonderful world of musical theater takes us many magical places. This was another show I had long looked forward to directing. And I see that once again I had a rather lengthy director’s note due to my intense interest in the subject. Researching the background of a show I always found an engrossing, fascinating part of preparing a production.
     One thing that immediately comes to mind about this show is performing it in the middle of a sizzling heat wave. Summers in the Poconos can be just about anything: rainy and cool, dry and hot, stretches of warm days and cool nights, stretches of cool days and almost cold nights. On occasion, it can be brutally hot, day and night.
     We had such a spell that summer, and it fell mainly during tech week and performance weekend. The audiences were fine, they were sitting in air-conditioning, but whatever cooled air there might have been on stage was burned away by the lights. So actors in heavy medieval garb were walking through hallways that were stifling onto a stage that was an eyelash away from Dante’s inferno due to stage lighting.
     As a result, when the actors were not on stage, they generally shed as much of those heavy costumes as decency would allow. Nearly everyone had on an item of apparel under their costume which could be worn without shocking anyone … a leotard or a bathing suit, for the most part. Our Lancelot was a very good looking young college student who was a swimmer. I don’t think I need to elaborate. Whenever he could, he stripped down to swim trunks. The ladies in the cast were most appreciative. The words “eye candy” come to mind. It gave them something to think about other than the miserable heat.
     Morgan Le Fay must have been up to some mischief during our production because we had some interesting developments during our preparation. First was the case of the disappearing costumer, a woman who had agreed to handle costume rentals for the show. We had decided not to stint on this show. If you do Camelot, you want to do it right. She came in early in the rehearsal period with a committee who measured the cast and prepared the forms required by the rental company. Those were duly sent to the company, and her job was done until it was time to take delivery of the costumes, fit the actors, handle any necessary alterations and keep careful tabs on everything during the performances, and then collect everything to be returned.
     Ten days or so prior to show weekend I attempted to contact her to remind her of our schedule. For a couple of days I called repeatedly and couldn’t get an answer on her phone. Finally, I reached someone who informed me she was out of town. “When will she be back?” The answer stunned me.
     “We’re not sure.” What?? They were quite serious; no projected return date. She might as well have been M.I.A. Fortunately, another woman who had helped with costumes for a high school production was around, and was brave enough to take over. This was a big rental order; she became my hero. 
     King Arthur was a tall man with proportionately long arms. The stuff the costume company sent didn’t fit well; the sleeves were all too short. We were less than thrilled with Guinevere’s costumes. Merlin worked some reverse magic to counteract what Morgan had been up to (that wicked girl) and a trip to the costumer – a drive of about an hour and a half ─ was very fruitful. We came back with treasure; wonderful costumes for both the King and the Queen.
     There’s a dog in Camelot; King Pellinore has a dog named Horrid. We only need to see him once, but he’s important to Pellinore’s first entrance. We hoped to find the large, shaggy dog referenced in the script, and a friend brought his dog Ray to a rehearsal. Ray was an Irish setter, friendly, very sweet, and seemed just right for Horrid. Until the second time he went onstage.
     Ray managed to get on stage – just barely – and proceeded to lie down, after which he refused to budge. At all. He wouldn’t even lift his head. The actor who was playing Pellinore looked to me for help, but I didn’t have anything to offer. We hadn’t even considered “hiring” a dog: Horrid is only onstage one time, and is on a leash.
Eventually, Ray’s owner managed to get him offstage, and I said to him later, “I don’t think this is going to work.” He agreed. The orchestra conductor had a dog named Penny, who was getting along in years and half blind, but with her daddy in the orchestra pit she was fine. Penny had the role.
     One last not-so-shining moment … I love stage fog. Or stage mist; whatever you call it, it’s just fun to spread around for a magical show like Cinderella or Camelot. To the best of my memory, Camelot was the first show for which we used a chemical fog machine rather than one which required dry ice. My son Steve was not only lighting director, but technical director for the show. Chemical fog machines are nifty, because you’re not constricted by having to keep feeding dry ice to the machine. Merlin was bewitched by Nimue, and the fog poured out over the stage. It looked great.
     It was too great. It set off the fire alarms in the high school where we were performing, and before we knew it the Stroudsburg Volunteer Fire Department roared up to the school, at least two trucks and first responders in full fire-fighting regalia, right on the heels of the school principal (he lived mere blocks from the school). Apologies all around; we promised to control the amount of fog we produced and not have a repeat of the false alarm. The principal was very forgiving under the circumstances. So we had fog, but it was subdued fog. Too bad … the first attempt had been glorious.
     I still love Camelot, but I think it’s a show with a flaw. There is far too much dialogue, but it’s good dialogue and it’s very difficult to cut. Mr. Lerner tried valiantly to bring this sprawling epic down to a manageable evening and he did a good job. It’s still too long. But the dialogue is truly wonderful, and our actors did it well.
     Pocono Record writer Susan Koomar gave us a fine review, referring to the production as “princely.” “Well-acted and visually lush, this version of Lerner and Loewe’s classic is entertaining and often enchanting.” She went on to praise many individual performances and ended the review by referencing my director’s note: “… noble Arthur and his kingdom could not long survive in this imperfect world. But that kingdom is revived here in good measure for a short time.”
    She liked us. She really liked us!

Camelot, Pocono Lively Arts, July 1991
Photo by Roselinde Karlson

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Warts and All

Creating a Character

I look through blogs and articles on line frequently in hopes of hitting on some remarkable secret to help me sell a few more books. A lot more would be nice, but I fancy myself a realist, especially about the writing business. So a few more would be great. More than once I have read the suggestion that writing about my characters might prompt people to want to read one of my novels. I can do this.

I like my characters. Creating them was a work of love. But one of my readers in particular cautioned me constantly to not make them too perfect. I had to study them carefully to find their shortcomings and include them, in order to make them the interesting people my readers come to care about. I had to uncover their warts.

It’s nice to read in reviews of Eli’s Heart:
The characters of the stubborn, lovable, brilliant Eli and the wistful, loving Krissy are beautifully drawn ...
These fictional figures become utterly real to the reader, helping to develop a connection that will make you need to know what is coming next.
“The interpersonal relationships of family and friends is presented with such heartfelt sincerity that the reader is drawn into the story line, feeling all the emotional highs and lows of the characters.”

Eli is a perfectionist, with all the ramifications that entails. He has two heavy burdens he deals with daily: he’s a prodigiously gifted musician and pianist, and he has a frightening congenital heart defect. He can be stubborn. He can be impatient and opinionated. He has a temper which he sometimes has to work hard to control. He has a difficult time sharing his most intense feelings with his wife. He doesn’t want her to know the fear he sometimes experiences. He has to find a way to truly share all of his life with her. He hates that his heart is defective but he doesn’t let it become what defines him.

Krissy is a dreamer. She’s little and cute, and that affects the way she sees the world. She has to deal with disappointment. She bites her fingernails when she’s young. She carries the guilt of having hurt Eli when they were both young teens. Facing up to realizing what Eli lives with daily is not easy for her, and when she finally understands his heart condition and what it means for both of them, it rocks her. She loves her brilliant husband beyond reason and would do anything for him. She can’t fix his heart, but she can try to help him live with his condition.

There is an intense emotional bond between Eli and Krissy – strongly enhanced by the love of music they share ─ and they live with love, courage and humor. One reader commented: “This was more than a love story. It was one filled with music and courage.”  Another said: “The story was fairy tale, full of music and wonder. I felt the love that Eli and Krissy had for each other.” Even though they are musicians, and there is much about music in the book, I’ve been told anyone can appreciate the love story.

One last quote from a reviewer (which I, of course, hope will prompt you to read the book!):
“There are many love stories out there, but Eli’s Heart is probably one of the best love stories of all time.

 cover design by Tristan Flanagan

Sunday, July 12, 2015

About Jamie Logan, Tenor

You Are My Song

    The nineteen-fifties. Elvis is wearing “Blue Suede Shoes.” Country music reigns supreme at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville.
     But in a small Tennessee town Jamie Logan ─ a good-hearted young man with a superb tenor voice ─ stars in his high school’s musical theater production and begins an unlikely, almost magical journey that could take him to the pinnacle of the opera world.
   The path is far from simple. Jamie just wants to sing. He is ill-prepared for the jealousy, rivalry and politics he encounters on his way. Family crises and even a hate crime also sidetrack him and threaten to undermine his journey.
    But Jamie has a voice beautiful beyond belief ─ and the love of a woman who inspires him to believe in himself. His desire to sing becomes his reason for being. Will that be enough?

     I introduced Jamie Logan in How I Grew Up; he played opposite Melanie Stewart in their high school production of Carousel. I like my character Jamie. He has a naturally beautiful voice. He has innate musicianship and an ability to learn quickly, and no ego. He’s friendly, generous, outgoing, considerate. Oh, and unusually good-looking. He and Melanie have a strong connection, and they both wonder if they could be in love. But no, Jamie has a jealous girlfriend he later marries, and she doesn’t want him to sing.
     When You Are My Song begins, it’s four years after Jamie’s graduation from high school, and his marriage has failed. I had to laugh at my readers’ reaction to that; two of them commented they weren’t surprised to learn of Jamie’s and Sarah’s divorce. I wasn’t either. I wanted to see what would happen if I allowed Jamie to reconnect with his love of singing.
     Jamie’s lack of ego is unusual in a tenor. It’s a challenge to be a tenor in the world of opera; everyone wants to hear the tenor’s high notes, and if he doesn’t deliver, there are inevitably negative reactions. There’s a reason many of us love the tenor voice. There’s an intensity to the tenor sound; the response to that sound and those high notes is visceral. It’s a thrill to hear a tenor sing high notes with power and beauty.
     Even more, we love to hear a tenor who can not only sing that high C, but hold it forever and play with the dynamics. All of these things are probably contrary to the laws of physics, or medical science, or something. But the poor tenor is stuck with it. Of course, there is so much more to what makes a good tenor ─ a passion for the music he sings; the sensibility to shape a beautiful phrase; the ability to move the audience with the sounds he makes. He must be able to connect with his fellow performers; he must be believable in the role he is portraying.
     The best singers don’t just perform. They share their souls with us. Because of the remarkable beauty of the tenor sound, we may feel he does that more intensely.
     Jamie eventually has the tools to pursue a career in opera, but when we first meet him he's a high school senior with a splendid voice and a good heart. Here’s his introduction to the reader in my first book, How I Grew Up, remembering the narrator is Melanie Stewart:

     Alice [Melanie’s sister] was right; Jamie was a very handsome boy. He had very dark hair, but fair skin and startlingly blue eyes. But it was more than that which made him so appealing; Jamie was someone everybody liked. He was friendly and kind, and always had a ready smile. Jamie had a truly beautiful tenor voice and he loved to sing, but he wasn’t conceited about it. When people complimented him on his singing, he always seemed a little surprised. He was just doing something he loved to do, and if people liked hearing him, well, that was great.

     That was Jamie at eighteen. My new book begins when he is twenty-two and follows him through the next seven years of his life, and Jamie goes through a lot in those seven years. You can order You Are My Song, as well as How I Grew Up and Eli’s Heart, in paperback or e-book format on Amazon. People who live here in the Poconos can purchase paperback copies of all my novels at a slightly discounted price at the Pocono Community Theater. I’ve loved writing these books. I hope you enjoy reading them.

 Cover design by Tristan Flanagan

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Creating Memories

 How I Grew Up

In the spring of 2012, for the first time in nearly twenty years, I didn’t have a summer musical to direct. It seemed odd. But I had some unexpected excitement in my life when my house was burglarized one night with me in it. Fortunately, my burglar alarm worked and woke me up, and I had an immediate response when I called 911. The burglar was caught before he could leave my circle.

Despite that flurry of activity, my summer was otherwise pretty quiet. The following spring I felt a little restless, once again having no show to direct. A friend suggested I write a book, and after some hesitation, I dove in. I’d always wanted to write a book. I had the time. Why not give it a try? Several months and many thousands of words later, I’d completed How I Grew Up. I wanted to see it in print before I died, so I found a Print On Demand company to publish it. Holding it in my hands was immensely satisfying.

One character in the book had a subplot which easily expanded to another novel, so I embarked on Eli’s Heart. More months passed with many more thousand words, and now I had two novels in print. I’d discovered a new passion. I’d also discovered Amazon’s CreateSpace which afforded me the opportunity to truly self-publish at almost no expense, since I had decent computer skills and could format the book myself. Amazing.

Now I was on a roll, and You Are My Song followed within about nine months. Another character from How I Grew Up insisted I tell his story, so I did. And just like that, without my ever planning it, I now have a trilogy on my hands. The books can be read separately, but to make it a true trilogy I knew it would be good to go back to How I Grew Up and make a few revisions to tie the three stories more strongly together.

So back to my first novel; formatting the manuscript to match the dimensions of the second and third books, and then re-reading How I Grew Up as I corrected mistakes I knew were there and made the revisions I had planned.

It’s a compelling story. Melanie Stewart is an eighteen-year-old high school senior whose parents are shot to death by her estranged brother-in-law only days before she plans to audition for her school’s musical, Carousel. While the book is fiction, this actually happened to a close friend of mine in Oak Ridge (Tennessee) High School. How she won the leading role and coped with the horrific tragedy she and her sisters suffered is the story I tell. Her courage and remarkable performance as Julie Jordan had an impact on me all my life – an impact much greater than I understood at the time.

It’s also a pretty darned good book, if I say so myself. I enjoyed reading it again. I wrote it in the first person and tried to recall as much about the real-life Melanie, Anita Barker, as I could. Sadly, she died in I believe 1992 of breast cancer. I have a beautiful photo of Anita, a head shot she had taken in Los Angeles after she went west to try to become a movie star. It sat on my computer as I wrote. It helped me remember how she talked, how she thought (she was very much a dreamer), how she dressed, how she moved. She was a very talented girl.

I didn’t release the book as YA literature. No vampires or otherworldly beings, no magic. But people who read it comment on how inspirational it is, and what a great role model “Melanie” is. So with the re-release – which I expect will happen around November 1 – I will probably make it Young Adult as well as General Fiction.

Much of the book is about the preparation for the production of Carousel, because it’s what kept Anita (and her counterpart Melanie) strong through an awful time in her life. And when I wrote the book, I had just directed a group of twenty-first century teenagers in the show. That seemed a little daunting, but the kids came to love Carousel as much as I did and they put on one heck of a show. They were splendid.

Spending time with them reminded me of my own high school experiences and how immersed in the musical people who are part of the show become. Not just the cast. The tech kids as well; the kids in the orchestra; the stage crew. The show belongs to all of them. Here’s one of my favorite parts of the book, where I write about the experience of waiting for the call to “places” on opening night:

There is no feeling like those few minutes before the first performance begins. I looked around the room and thought how much I loved and appreciated every single person there. And I think everybody felt that way. We had worked so hard, we had done this together, and now we were going to give an audience something that had come to belong to us, to all of us, to each of us. It was a gift we had given ourselves, and now we wanted to give it to them and share all the joy, all the sadness, all the emotion and life of this beautiful show. There had been other productions of Carousel, and there would be many more in years to come, but none would ever be exactly the same as this one.
We were creating memories that would be with us forever.

 Carousel Opening Scene, March 2013
East Stroudsburg High School South
East Stroudsburg, PA

More information: www.susanmoorejordan.com

Friday, July 3, 2015

Remembering the Birth of the Nation

Revisiting the Second Continental Congress

Of all the shows I directed over that long span of thirty-one years which I am currently writing about, one that was in many ways unique was Sherman Edwards’ and Peter Stone’s powerful musical play, 1776.

It was performed by the community theater group I was part of for some thirty years, Pocono Lively Arts, in July of 1989. Casting the show was a challenge for a group such as ours, for it requires twenty-five men and two women. The play takes place primarily in the Chamber of the Continental Congress, with a few scenes in Thomas Jefferson’s room, and a few in the imagination of John Adams when he is dreaming of his wife, Abigail.

As I recall, throughout our rehearsals there was a sense of history being revisited, largely due to the strong script. The members of the Congress who are portrayed in the play became very real to all of us. I know the audiences became engrossed in what they saw on stage, and all of us were moved at the end of each performance as the actors portraying our Founding Fathers came forward to sign the Declaration of Independence to the continual tolling of a bell. It almost seemed as if the past were very present at that moment.

There’s a chapter about the production in my work-in-progress, “More Fog, Please!” Each chapter in the book begins with the director’s note I wrote for the printed program for each production, and in honor of the holiday and what it means, I’m including that here. My reference to “recent events in China” were prompted by what had transpired at Tiananmen Square in Beijing in June of 1989. It was a sobering reminder of how precious freedom is, and how hard-won.


     During the past decade two experiences have made me deeply aware of the debt we owe to the members of the Second Continental Congress. The first was standing in the Congressional Chamber in Independence Hall, Philadelphia; the second was becoming acquainted with this extraordinary play. In both instances, briefly in Independence Hall and during much of the course of the play, I had a sense of immediacy of what these men faced and their courage in accepting the challenge.
     All of what you will see on stage is based on fact. The weather in the late spring and early summer of 1776 was unusually hot and humid, resulting in a large number of horseflies incubated in the stable next door to what was then the State House. The description of John Adams as “obnoxious and disliked” was his own. Benjamin Franklin was prone to drowsing off in public. Stephen Hopkins always wore his round Quaker hat in the chamber, and was referred to as “Old Grape and Guts.” Thomas Jefferson, who actually was required to delivery daily weather reports, was deeply in love with his beautiful young bride. Edward Rutledge was the leading proponent of States’ Rights. General Washington wrote copious dispatches to the Congress – in fact, every word in the dispatches read by Thomson in the play are taken from them, or are words recorded as having been spoken by Washington. John Dickinson’s actions at the end of the play are recorded history.
     All of the dialogue and song lyrics in the scenes between John and Abigail Adams are based on, and in some cases taken verbatim from, their correspondence. The idea for these scenes occurred to the authors when reading these letters, and came from a line written by John: “Oh, if I could only annihilate time and space!”
     Certainly, we all realize there were many more delegates to the Congress than we see on stage. Also, in the interest of dramatic impact, (Sherman) Edwards and (Peter) Stone have made some changes in the actual sequence of events, though not in the events themselves.
     Most importantly, the authors have given us living portraits of this remarkable group of men, and brought to life those circumstances and passions which had such an impact on their lives – and ours. They were men of human shortcomings, yet they were undoubtedly the most extraordinary group of men in all of history to have gathered together in one place and at one time. According to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., in his book The Birth of the Nation, they were “… fearless, high-principled, deeply versed in ancient and modern political thought … convinced of man’s power to improve his condition through the use of intelligence, and unafraid of experiment. They were men of vision.”
     Recent events in China have no doubt renewed in us our understanding of our indebtedness to those men who adopted the Declaration of Independence. “To this day the nation and the world are committed to the unending quest to unfold the ultimate meaning of those quiet phrases, written over two centuries ago by a young man in a small room in an unknown city on the margin of Western civilization: We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

1776, Final Scene
Pocono Lively Arts, July 1989