Stage Presence: Gwendolyn Rice's 'A Thousand Words' Exposes Work Of Photographer Who Met Hemingway
Interview by Gayle Worland, Wisconsin State Journal


Photo by Nick Berard

People know me as:
Gwendolyn Rice, playwright and Forward Theater Company's communications director.

Coming up next:
Forward Theater will present my new play "A Thousand Words." It will be performed Jan. 20 to Feb. 5 in Promenade Hall at the Overture Center before moving to Milwaukee for a three-week run in collaboration with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre. Ticket information is at overturecenter.com or forwardtheater.com.

How "A Thousand Words" came about:
The play was conceived after I read a small newspaper article about the owner of a bar in Key West, Fla. He stumbled upon a treasure trove of books, fishing gear, and personal effects from one of the bar's most famous patrons — Ernest Hemingway. Among these items were a collection of black and white photos taken by Walker Evans. This story fascinated me. ... I started researching Evans and studying his photos. I wondered what Evans' and Hemingway's relationship was like, what they talked about, how they might have influenced each other's work. Initially I thought Hemingway would be a character and the play would take place in the three weeks the two artists spent together in Cuba. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to explore the work of Walker Evans, the relationship between words and pictures, and the discovery of the lost photos, so I created a new story.

Don't miss it because:
It's a world premiere by a Madison playwright! The Madison arts community has nurtured this new work from its beginning stages as a script in development. "A Thousand Words" was selected as a winner of the Wisconsin Wrights playwriting competition, and received a workshop with professional actors, director, and dramaturg, culminating in a reading at UW-Madison in May 2008. The following year Milwaukee Chamber Theatre produced a staged reading of the script as part of its annual Montgomery Davis Play Development Series, directed by Jennifer Uphoff Gray. ... We have further refined and developed the script — a process that will continue through opening night. ... The play's production is complemented by a mixed-media exhibit, inspired by the work of Walker Evans and featuring works by professional photographers, members of the Center for Photography in Madison, the Mad City Quilt Guild and the Madison Contemporary Fiber Artists. Their artwork will be on display in Overture's Gallery II and Playhouse Gallery through early March.

Most inspiring moment on stage:
It actually came during an audition. ... After the fourth or fifth time you hear mediocre actresses butcher a scene, you stop listening and you may strike up a quiet conversation with a friend while you wait to be called. At one audition like this, by the time I finally stood up to read, the auditorium filled with college students was pretty noisy. As I worked my way through the monologue, things got quieter and quieter. When I finished, I realized everyone was silent, and staring at me. Then they all applauded. I got the part.

Tip for Madison audiences:
Come for Forward's pre-show talks (one hour before every Thursday and Sunday show) and stay for the talkbacks after every performance.

Posted 1-14-12