"...We deserve to tell our own stories here in this city." - Chad Henderson
Artistic director for Trustus Theater, Chad Henderson has spent most of his theater career in the role of director, but for this Thursday's SYZYGY: THE PLAYS event, he is also a playwright. His play, "June and Reese in the Bunker with Hope," will be one of six 10-minute plays performed at Tapps Art Center in Columbia. Performance times for the six-play performances are 7:00p.m. and 10:00p.m on August 17; admission is $10. Each of the plays anticipates and celebrates next week's solar eclipse by incorporating two and a half minutes of darkness in the plot.
Henderson has a bit of fun with the complications of his dual roles in the performance. "Every time I've written something, I've directed it. It's not a distrust of my work in other storyteller's hands, but...what self-respecting director wants to direct a play by an amateur named 'Chad Henderson'? It's just not a name that screams 'literary.'" In all seriousness, Chad greatly admires the solitary work of playwrights that then becomes highly collaborative work for theater artists. "I'm thankful that I was asked to be part of this project as a writer. Believe me, it was incredibly intimidating and made me approach theatre from a new jettison."
Henderson overheard the first "rumblings" of the SYZYGY project while enjoying drinks at The Whig with Jasper's Cindi Boiter, whose brain child SYZYGY is. Thinking it sounded fun to write a play containing a 2.5 minute period of darkness, he responded with thanks and commitment to participate. At first, he didn't know where to start. In his younger days, Henderson wrote lots of scripts for movies, including a middle school slasher flick and a high school rom-com. His most recent foray into writing was a musical theater adaptation of the concept album Constance, by Daniel Machado and The Restoration. (A fully staged version will appear at Trustus in Spring 2018.) With the SYZYGY play, however, he felt as if he would never get started, despite a looming deadline "barreling down the tracks at a tremendous pace." Abruptly, he recognized the spark of an idea when he heard a news story about people making preparations for a nuclear attack.
What audiences will see Thursday is his play about three people who have been stuck for four days in a bunker following a nuclear attack on Seattle. Reese and June, a married couple who have enjoyed several decades of matrimony, are joined in the small space by their new neighbor, Hope. "I actually wrote the play with three actors in mind," two of whom Henderson has worked with in prior performances over the years. Bill Roberson, who incidentally has the line "Is there no decency?" in the film, The Patriot, will be playing Reece. Playing his wife, June, will be Libby Campbell; Henderson has been a huge fan of hers since he saw her perform Violet in August: Osage County. Hope will be played by an actress whom Henderson has had a "huge director-crush" on since their days at USC, even pushing props around on stage just so he could see Marybeth Gorman Craig rehearse. Henderson says they all hit the ground running hard. "We're laughing a lot, which is a good sign. Having fun is a first step to a successful performance." Henderson acknowledges that these three actors are experienced, which makes working with them a breeze. "I can't believe I was able to actually get them to sign on! Lucky writer, lucky director, lucky guy."
When asked what he's most excited about, Henderson said, "I'm excited to watch audiences experience a story that I've written rather than interpreted." He's also excited to see what other writers, director, and casts have created. "The opportunity for people to experience theater is an incredibly healthy thing for Columbia. My dream is that Columbia theater-fans will seek more and more original work--we deserve to tell our own stories here in this city."
As for the actual eclipse, once the SYZYGY project is finished, Henderson said he has not yet had time to listen to Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" in preparation, nor will he likely have a chance before Monday. "Total bummer." He is, however, researching whether he can watch the eclipse through a magnifying glass--with approved promotional glasses that came free with his Catawba beer, of course.
CINDY TURNER is a resident of Lancaster, SC, where she is a veteran high school English teacher. Although she has been a theater patron all her life, her play, One Another, written with Jon Tuttle, is her first play.