The Playwriting Center of Theater Emory presented a stage adaptation of 2012 U.S. Poet Laureate and Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Creative Writing and English Natasha Tretheway’s book of poems Native Guard on Saturday evening in the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts.
Tretheway was a 2007 Poetry Pulitzer Prize winner.
The event was part of a larger biennial festival called Brave New Works which features a series of readings of new plays and exploratory workshops that bring together playwrights, stage adaptors, composers, actors and students, according to Senior Lecturer in the Theater Studies department Jan Akers.
The Brave New Works series began at the end of January with readings from “In Love and Warcraft” by Madhuri Shekar and concluded on Feb. 15 with a presentation of Josiah Watts’ “The Sapelo Project.”
Tretheway’s novel, which explores black soldiers in the Deep South who played a role during the Civil War, gets its namesake from its title poem.
The poem echoes the thoughts of a former slave who has the task of writing letters home for illiterate or invalid prisoners of war and other soldiers.
The play version of the book featured two characters: the poet and the native guard.
A pianist and singer accompanied the actors as they performed poems from the novel.
“It was almost as if we were hearing Tretheway speaking those words,” said College junior Troizel Carr, who acted in a Brave New Works production.
He added that the play included a lot of history, especially with the addition of Southern songs throughout the performance.
Carr – who usually acts in staged plays that incorporate props, sets, blocking and lights – described the difference between the production of a play and a staged reading, like the ones performed for Brave New Works.
“To have it broken all the way down to a reading, you’re still getting to the grit in developing these characters,” he said. “You’re still getting to the heart of the story.”
Brave New Works provides students with the opportunity to participate in the stage adaptation process and fosters inventiveness, Akers wrote in an email to the Wheel.
“[Students] are an integral part of the conversation about how to bring each project forward to the next phase of development,” Akers wrote. “They are witnesses when the writer’s fresh ideas and compelling words are revealed and celebrated.”
Many plays that start off as readings during Brave New Works go on to become stage productions, Carr said.
“Brave New Works is a necessary tool for art,” he said.
–By Rupsha Basu