Great theatre explores the depths of what it means to human. For Theroun D’arcy Patterson, his goal has always been to tell an American story that investigates the forces that shape us as people and as a nation.
In his new play A Thousand Circlets, winner of the 2011 Essential Theatre Play Playwriting Award, he shares the story of a prominent African-American family in New York whose success is threatened as the father’s Alzheimer’s begins to manifest itself. According to Patterson, the play looks at “the family dynamics—how it changes them and the legacy they leave behind.”
While the characters and their situations are fictional, the story itself has a personal connection to his own life. “My best friend was an actor and director in town, and his father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,” he says. “One day he said my dad is sick, and I have to go. He packed up and moved back home. I began to think about what that meant for him and how it changed his life, his family.” This thought is what led him to craft A Thousand Circlets around a few scenes he had already written, exploring the ideas through the fictional family.
The father, an architect who is designing a celebrated skyscraper, succumbs to the disease. Everything the family has known begins to unravel. For many in the audience, especially those who have attended readings, the play is deeply personal. Patterson has seen firsthand how his play has impacted audiences. After seeing the play, viewers have come up to him to express how the disease has affected people they know. He says, “It’s not always talked about [the disease], but it touches more people than you think.”
In addition to real life spurring ideas for his plays, Patterson draws much of his inspiration from poetry. For A Thousand Circlets, the inspiration becomes evident. Taken from a line in a Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem, “A Picture Or A Lover’s Resolution,” the play’s title refers to a section in the poem where the speaker observes an image, mirrored in a pool of water, spread into “a thousand circlets” only to come back together again. “It is a powerful image as far as the way it makes me think about family,” he mentions.
For him, the poem reminds him how a traumatic event, such as the father’s sickness, tears the family apart only to eventually join together again. Much like the family in A Thousand Circlets, these families come back together changed and a little different, even if the change isn’t displayed to those on the outside.
Seeing the production come alive makes him feel a little proud and a little strange at the same time. “It is my first full production. Having the play produced is such an honor. The fact that I have this opportunity is huge, huge for all of us,” he comments. “It’s surreal sometimes. As I watch it, I forget sometimes I wrote that. I’m still getting used to it; It is a nice problem to have.”
He is quick to acknowledge Essential Theatre’s role in the production. “They are the only theatre committed to producing new work by Georgia playwrights,” he states. “[With them] we get a fair shot.” Patterson’s play is being produced by the Essential Theatre due to his win in the 2011 Essential Theatre Play Playwriting Award competition.
The Essential Theatre Playwriting Award was created in 2011 to promote the creation of new plays in Georgia. Only plays that have not been previously produced are eligible for the competition, and only Georgia playwrights can participate. The winning play each year is produced during the Essential Theatre Play Festival. When new plays are produced or read in such a setting as Essential Theatre’s, “You never know whose career you are going to start,” says Patterson.
Each summer, the festival produces plays that have not been produced in the Atlanta area. In addition to the winning play from the competition, Essential Theatre picks other plays that are either regional or world premieres.
“[Essential Theatre] has always been good about seeking out new plays,” remarks Patterson. “Their work is important because we need to keep finding new voices and new points of view on the world. We need to see another generation’s take on the world.”
The plays selected for the festival each year run in repertory. For 2011, A Thousand Circlets runs alongside A Sleeping County by Melanie Marnich and Great Falls by Lee Blessing through July 31 at the King Plow Arts Center. In addition to these fully staged productions, several “Bare Essential Readings” will take place including Pain in the Neck by Rachel Teagle, My Brother’s Knife by Josh Mikel, and The Spins by Sara Crawford. For more details please visit http://www.essentialtheatre.com/.
By Kenny Norton and Andrew Wesley.