Writing Historical Pieces for Those Who Don’t Like History

I found myself writing a short play over the weekend. It’s set in 1932 Central Park, NY. There are two characters: one Eulalie from Harlem and Becky, not from Harlem.

I’ve become quite fond of this piece I named “Wonder Bread & Other Miracles.”

As I was writing, I chose the name Eulalie for the girl from Harlem based on an actress from the Harlem Renaissance era named Eulalie Spence. I named my character Eulalie Spencer. The character in the play is a young girl, age not specified, who wants to be an actress in Harlem with the Lafayette Players, a real-life drama group, which disbanded in 1932.

The play that I wrote is not a historically accurate piece. That wasn’t my goal. I was just following an idea which took me down the road of race relations in the early 1930s and the Wonder Bread took on some sort of symbolic meaning during the course of the piece.

As I was writing this, I found myself having to balance between keeping it somewhat historically accurate while at the same time making it accessible to anyone in 2015 who would actually see it. And I mean anyone! Example: this piece will probably be performed as part of a high school forensics competition in an international school setting. There will be no African-Americans there. There will not be anyone present who would have any idea what the Harlem Renaissance was or who the Lafayette or Alhambra Players were.

And so as I wrote this, it became obvious that a historical setting like this can only be effective in this setting  if there are universal themes and if the historical information will not be a hindrance to the audience.

How I did remains to be seen, but I worked hard to bring out themes of friendship, cultural divides, and reconciliation that anyone could understand – especially anyone from a country like Malaysia which has so much diversity yet sits uncomfortably on the precipice concerning racial harmony.

On the historical side, I tried to use real group names, real context of Harlem in the early 1930s, and I hope I have succeeded.

I love this piece, actually. I’m sure I’ll be publishing it in the near future: “Wonder Bread & Other Miracles.”

Another one that deserves the musical treatment. Composers anyone?

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