When Theatrical Outfit presents the world premiere of Calvin Alexander Ramsey’s The Green Book, audiences will be introduced to a little-known chapter of history, and for Ramsey the play’s run will close a full circle of events that have led to this point.
“Most people know about the Underground Railroad, but very few people know of the Green Book,” Ramsey mentions. “It is a large page of history that has gone unnoticed.” Uncovering the mystery of the Green Book has been a task that Ramsey has dedicated himself to completing since he first learned of the book. When the play closes on September 11, 2011, it will be somewhat of a full circle of events for Ramsey as it was the events of September 11, 2001, that prompted him to begin writing in earnest.
After spending time in New England, Ramsey flew back to Atlanta from Boston’s Logan International Airport (where two of the hijacked planes departed) just five days before the tragic events, and he decided that if he was going to do something, he needed to it. Since then, he has been writing. In addition to working on The Green Book, a total of ten plays and two children’s books have been completed.
The idea for The Green Book began ten years ago after the tragic death of his friend Little Tony. During this time, he met his friend’s grandfather, who came down to the deep south for the first time from New York. At some point in their conversation, Ramsey learned about the Green Book. The conversation had an impact on him, causing him to have “an urgency to find out more.”
From that point on, he did just that; however, the answer eluded him at first. To find a copy of the book, he searched special collections at Emory University, but the quest ended up being fruitless. Eventually he found two copies at Atlanta University. After reading it, he began to research the book’s author Victor Green.
Originally called The Negro Motorist Green Book: An International Travel Guide, the book aided African-American travelers on where to stay, buy gas, eat or find other goods and services during the Jim Crow era. Over time entries in the book grew. A portion of the entries about lodging included available private homes where travelers could stay for the night. This aspect has found its way into Ramsey’s script.
The Green Book, as a play, began taking shape based on Ramsey’s research. One of five finalists at a conference in Valdez, Alaska, it received its first critique. Based on the feedback from that conference, he was encouraged that he “may have the ability to [write it].” He returned home to Atlanta with a renewed focus and began the rewrites.
The road to a full production hasn’t been easy or quick. Before the Atlanta premiere, The Green Book has undergone several high-profile readings, including one in Washington, where civil rights leader Julian Bond read the role of Green.
After writing the play, he felt something else was needed for children. To accomplish this goal, Ramsey wrote a children’s book called Ruth and the Green Book.
In contrast to the play, the book follows a little girl and her family as they travel from Chicago to Selma, Ala., to visit her grandmother. Building on the success of the book, there will be a reading at the Decatur Book Festival, and it will be staged at Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts in February 2012.
The Green Book is a “special work for me due to its unique message.” Ramsey goes on to mention that he is “fortunate that something good has come out of the tragic death of Little Tony.” Throughout this process he learned that “the play has touched people on different levels.”
At the moment, Ramsey enjoys the creative experience of staging a play, which is new to him. Throughout the past few weeks, he has soaked everything in from watching rehearsals take place to the set being built. When asked about this whole process, he comments that the play’s development has been “a dream come true. I can’t put it into words. I’m humbled by the whole experience; I can’t wait for the public to see this play.”
The world premiere of The Green Book begins previews at Theatrical Outfit on Wednesday, August 17 and opens on Saturday, August 20. The play runs through September 11. For tickets and more information, please visit Theatrical Outfit’s website.
By Kenny Norton