This week I'm finishing the hat.
No, friends, I have not become a Sondheim convert overnight, though I couldn’t resist borrowing the title of his best-selling book about the world behind his musicals.
I am actually, literally, finishing a hat for one of my actors in an upcoming production that I wrote and directed called "Talking Spirits," a program sponsored by the Wisconsin Veteran's Museum at Forest Hills Cemetery. Part research project, part historical drama, the play is a series of four monologues based on the lives of 19th century Wisconsin residents with a strong connection to the Civil War.
This is the second year I’m participating in this unique theater project and it’s hard for me to decide which part is my favorite. . . I love going down rabbit holes on the internet doing research about doctors, dentists, farmers, philanthropists, former slaves, widows and other "normal" people living in an extraodrinary time. I also enjoy getting inside each character's head and listening to them as I construct the monologues. As a bonus, I get to direct the pieces myself, which is not a luxury that playwrights are usually afforded. I'm able to hear how my words sound in a performer's mouth, see the story evolve, change things that aren't working, and discover new things along with the actors -- who are usually friends of mine.
It's a lot of work, but I love this project. Maybe it's because I'm fascinated by small stories that have great emotional resonance. Maybe it's because in another life I would be a 19th century social historian running a museum somewhere. At least partly, it's because of the clothes.
So this week, when we realized that my actress's bleach blonde mohawk (leftover from a previous role) was NOT going to look period-approporate under a snood, I decided to make her a hat. An 1860s spoon bonnet, actually, all in black with ribbon, satin, lace, and a few artificial flowers. Since I am a mediocre seamstress at best, it was much harder than writing the pieces, but it was fun.
Once again I did the research. . .
and more research. . . and now it's done. And it's lovely! And I'm so excited for the candle-light tours and the school groups and wandering around in the cemetery listening for even more stories buried there.
Visit wisvetsmuseum.com for more information, and to join us September 30 and October 1st. you won't want to miss this hat!