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“Quilters” – a farewell to Sarah

June 7, 2011

A daughter

June 2011

                                             Farewell to Sarah

Sarah's quilt

The final performance of  *“Quilters” has come and gone. A Pulitzer prize-winning play, a great review, and sell-out crowds – but Sarah is gone. For sixteen weeks, I have walked with her, sung her songs, and struggled to create her story. She is now almost as real to me as all the tough, strong women I used as models to make her come alive.

In the play (as stated in a 6/2/11/review in the South Whidbey Record), “Sarah McKendree Bonham… introduces the audience to the story of her hard-won life as a pioneer woman in the American West, along with her nine daughters, using the quilts they made over the years as a kind of photo album of their full and sometimes treacherous lives”.

The role was a real challenge: presenting me with enough failure, frustration, and fatigue to last a long time. As the rehearsal process churned along, I was constantly thinking about that very thin line that separates storytelling and theater. For, at times in this play, I was the storyteller, commenting on my own life and the experiences and lives of my daughters, neighbors, etc. But at other times, as an actress, I was “living” them. Slowly, gradually, through the rehearsal process: searching, trying, failing, and trying again, Sarah began to emerge until – finally – it was a joy to share her with an audience! Because this time… in this play, I was not stuck behind any imaginary “fourth wall”; I could (and did!) interact with the audience and their reactions deepened and enriched the character.

But now, Sarah is gone. And I am left with that strange empty feeling that all theater people know so well. The comfort is that I felt her – and the audience felt her – and my work as a storyteller helped make that happen.

*

Sarah and her daughters

“Quilters”, written by Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek, is based on “The Quilters: Women and Domestic Art” by Patricia Cooper and Norma Bradley Allen.

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