Home Leisure & Sports TPS Presents Fan Me With a Brick by Kenley Smith

TPS Presents Fan Me With a Brick by Kenley Smith

by Cass Teague
The real-life Catherine and Victoria, the inspirations for the main characters of FAN ME WITH A BRICK, pose for a snapshot in the early 1960s.

When Victoria sets out to learn more of her family’s history, she opens a portal to a past full of loss, pain, and indomitable perseverance. Her mother reluctantly joins her, and the two women uncover old wounds – a scandalous affair in segregated Virginia, a stolen child, a lost parent, a horrific accident – that linger unhealed in the present.

Based on true events, Fan Me With a Brick, written by Kenley Smith, directed by Shawn Whitsell, with original research by V. Yalewa Sparrowhawk Ferguson, will be presented by Tennessee Playwrights Studio at Darkhorse Theatre 4610 Charlotte Avenue Nashville, TN 37209.

The cast includes Tanya Anderson, Briana C. Finley, Dee Hammonds, Leslie Hammonds, Tony Insignares, JR Knowles, Myah Jackson, Ethan H. Jones, Josh Kiev, Angela Martin, Kysa Siovan, and Kinston Smith. Performances are July 7&8 at 7:30 pm; July 9 at 3pm; July 13-15, 20-22 at 7:30 pm.

Visit tnplaywrights.org for more information and tickets.

Here’s the fascinating true backstory by the author:

I cringed.

“Hey, I hear you’re a playwright,” my high-school classmate messaged me. “Well, you need to write a play about my family.”

My eyes rolled.

“I have my own stories,” I wanted to respond. “Whatever you’re preparing to tell me is going to be awful. It’ll have no impact outside of your own little circle. Life is too damn short for this.”

Although we went to the same junior high, high school and college, we’d barely spoken over those 10 years. In 2017, we were strangers with a four-decade acquaintance. But I am many things, including a coward. So I typed in response.

“Oh. Cool. Tell me about it.”

Even my fingers regretted it.

She sent me pages and pages of notes. I glanced at the words that tumbled from my phone. No one, I told myself, wants to see a play about genealogical research, much less write one.

And then I read what she sent me. I sat transfixed. Stunned. The story in those notes spanned a century of loss, betrayal, pain, and perseverance. It was real and human and heartbreaking, but the wounds somehow closed in the end. Indomitable spirit triumphed.

We spoke on the phone for a few hours. I heard her own story for the first time, because I had never bothered before to ask. I realized how my experience of that small coalfield town directly opposed hers, and that realization shamed me. I was there, for God’s sake; how could I not have known?

“This needs to be a play,” she said. “I want you to write it.”

She wanted me, a white man of privilege, to tell the story of her African-American and Native ancestors. The thought humbled me. It terrified me.

“There are plenty of playwrights out there,” I said.

“But I trust you,” she replied. And so, here we are.

It was at first a daunting task. I had to condense 70 years into a couple of hours and pare down dozens of real-life characters into a manageable cast for the modern stage. I thought about it all for months before Phoebe uttered her first words in my mind. When her voice finally spoke truth, the rest of the play unfolded. It was written between April and August of 2018 as part of my work with the then-brand-new Tennessee Playwrights Studio.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this play with you. I hope you enjoy Fan Me With a Brick, the story of Yalewa Sparrowhawk’s family.

I knew her as Vicky, by the way.

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