“Ghost Notes”

ghost notes 3

Vincent Johnson
      Staff Writer


Last weekend, playwright Gabrielle Sinclair premiered her latest play “Ghost Notes,” at the Stephen D. Hyers Theater of the Greensboro Cultural Center as a part of the 14th Annual Greensboro Fringe Festival. The production’s final showing was held on Tuesday, January 26 at 8:00 pm.

The plot of the play centers around members of a Southern Christian family who gather at a hospital as the family patriarch prepares to pass on. Focusing on themes of loss, absence and destiny, “Ghost Notes” seeks to drive the conversation of how these things interact with each other as we face the inevitability of human mortality.

As only the latest product of Sinclair’s decade-long career as a playwright, the story is a clear nod to her desire to “follow the fear.” As she talked about her initial inspiration to become a playwright she explained, “I felt a dual impulse to write fiction and to write plays, and I went with playwriting because it was scarier for me. Del Close, this improv luminary, is famous for teaching his students to ‘follow the fear.’ I’d say that’s what I did. Most recently I developed my full-length play ‘Showing’ at Nashville Rep, about a gender reveal party that goes terribly wrong, and currently I’m working with my amazing director Sina Heiss on a re-imagining of the Danaid trilogy with an international cast and crew.”

The events of “Ghost Notes” take place in the South, and center around a not-so-typical family. While discussing her original inspiration for writing the play, Sinclair also shared how some of the details of the setting were taken directly from her own personal life.

“As a Southerner raised as a Christian, I was interested in how we grapple with these death rituals and how they shake us up when they don’t go as we planned,” she explained. “In this particular case, I wondered how a religious family might unravel and then come back together after a father chooses to donate his body to science instead of having a Christian burial. I was always taught that the story grows out of the characters. For this play I let the characters show up at the hospital each with something at stake and something to lose. I also try and ask ‘What is the worst thing that could happen for this person?’ and then do my best to make that happen. Outlining and plotting are essential for screenwriting, but with plays, this one included, I don’t know what’s going to happen in act two until I get to the end of act one.”

Unlike novel writing, poetry and other disciplines of the pen, the art of theatre has just as much to do with production as it has to do with the writing of the script. And anybody in the business of drama can tell you that it is a challenging process. But when the pieces are there and the chemistry is potent, everything just seems to fall into place.

“The Drama Center has a fantastic program each year through the Mark Gilbert Award which provides a North Carolina playwright with a phenomenal director, cast and crew to put up a fully realized production, which aids in the development of the piece, Sinclair explained. “This was a relatively quick production process. The director (Randy Morris) and designers did a great job of taking what was on the page, making big strong choices right away and making it real and lovely. And the cast, bless ’em, went deep real fast. We selected our performers through auditions at the Drama Center at City Arts.”

Although the production process happened relatively quickly and smoothly for “Ghost Notes,” every play does have its share of challenges, highs and lows. And “Ghost Notes” was not spared. But at times, especially when you’re trying to meet a deadline, it’s best to just roll with the punches.

“When you’re working this fast, I think it’s smart to sing ‘Let it Go!’ on repeat and let the director and actors and designers do their magic,” Sinclair revealed. “There’s only so much you can fix in a script when everyone’s busting their tails to get this done well and on time. You make notes for yourself on what to look at next time around, but just try and enjoy the process and celebrate what’s being created. A lot of stuff I hadn’t seen on the page became crystal clear on the stage, but it’s a matter of enjoying what is good and what works. My favorite part of the whole process was just talking with Randy (the director) about the play. His questions and insights illuminated so much for me. Also the knife Theo Vicars (stage manager extraordinaire) carved for The Man. That thing is beautiful. Plus there are some legit surreal images in this play. It’s trippy for them to exist in reality now.”

When it’s all said and done, the most important part of any drama production is the way it affects and connects with the audience. Sinclair used the analogy of meeting new people to explain the desired effect that she wants her plays to have on audiences.

“Well, a play’s more than a little bit like a real person, if that doesn’t sound too kooky,” she explained. “So like with meeting new folks, you gotta let go of ‘will they like me?!’ upon meeting and hope instead for a point of connection. I wouldn’t mind if folks in the audience left feeling a bit uneasy. Maybe hopeful. I think this play’s like spying on strangers in a hospital waiting room, in a crisis maybe like one you’re going through, who you only meet in bits and pieces and then never again. I had thought this was a ghost story, but looking back I think it’s more of a somewhat gruesome fairy tale. I always try not to go into writing with a message in mind. But watching all these pieces now on its feet, the closest I can come to is we’re more than the sum of our parts. As screwed up as we might be, it takes more than being in the same room to be together, but when we are honestly in sync we make something better than we do when we’re alone.”

A play can be thought of as a brainchild, conceived in the mind of the playwright, and birthed on stage in front of audiences. When using this new analogy to explain what the production meant to her, Sinclair also shared how she would describe the play to a person who hadn’t seen it in one sentence. “I would say that ‘it’s a night spent in a hospital, with a woman whose soul is unraveling, and the members of a fractured religious family who are each grappling with their dying patriarch’s decision to donate his body to science.’ A play’s not completed until it’s had its first production. That’s the thing about a play that’s so different from a poem or a short story. It needs to live on the stage, and that means letting go of it for a bit. A play really is like a child in a lot of ways. Also I mean as a writer for this particular play, I can see how my own struggles to understand loss are very child-like. And seeing that that is definitely more than a little embarrassing, and that it’s also okay. The truth I’ve noticed is often pretty embarrassing.”

“Ghost Notes” is the brainchild of Gabrielle Sinclair. As a story that ties in themes of religion, science, mortality, life after death, loss, absence and destiny, it challenges our thoughts and belief systems. It is a thought-provoking drama that is worth the time and the optional donation for admission. In a world that seeks to paint everything in black and white, creating endless rules and laws for us to follow, “Ghost Notes” seeks to bend those rules, forcing audience members to imagine and examine their own realities from an alternate point-of-view.

As for what’s next on her upcoming list of projects, the playwright Sinclair explained, “I’m writing a re-imagining of the Danaid trilogy with Lonesome George Productions. We’re putting together a developmental reading in NYC next month, and planning to put up the production in Vienna in September. Also my fledgling theatre company Story Hound Theatrical Detective Agency is co-producing a little event at Scuppernong downtown called The Grapevine, which has connected artists like a big game of telephone over the past few months, and will culminate in art, poetry, song theatre and wine there in April.”

Categories: Arts & Entertainment, featured, Uncategorized, Visual & Performance

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