KERRMOOR plays at the New York International Fringe Festival August 22-27
An Interview with Susan McCully
Indie Theater Now asked Susan McCully a few questions about her play Kerrmoor.
What real person/event is the subject of this play, and why did you select this?
I’m a native Scots-Irish Appalachian. These are the people who have found a voice in Donald Trump’s presidential run. The play takes place in an isolated mountain town where my family lives. If you’re an insider, you know they are strong, kind, decent people. They are the people of mythic American individualism, and I love them. They also spew racist, xenophobic thoughts that turn my stomach. KERRMOOR is an Appalachian Greek tragedy about how their vision remains stuck in the past, and how hanging on to the past comes at great peril.
What’s the playwright’s obligation as a reporter of fact? How do you figure out what’s actually “true” (or can you even do that)? Can stretching/shaping the facts ever be justified?
My play is complete fiction, and it is absolutely true. I’ve created a cultic ritual that expresses the desire to return to a great mythic past that never existed. I wrote a real tragedy to illustrate both the nobility of a people and their epic failure to accept change.
What kinds of research did you do in the creation of this play? What sources did you consult – books, movies, memoirs, websites, etc.?
I spent last summer back home in the mountains taling to people. There is something about the isolation and the geography that brings me back to the incredible beauty of the Appalachians, but also how cut off from the rest of the country folks there remain. It helps me understand how two different countries really do exist here. I’ve spent years living in cities, and it’s easy to forget that there are parts of the country that really have not changed much. It helps me feel empathy for attitudes that seem reprehensible to someone who knows nothing about this culture except the hillbilly caricature.
Did your feelings about this topic change as you created this play? If so, in what way? What did you learn about yourself in this process?
I had to really own the extent to which I’ve been shaped by racist, white culture. I had to tell the truth about the way “we” talk and feel about others. At the same time, I ended up loving “my people” and their way of life in a way I had not since I left there as a teen-ager. I had to honestly understand the point of view and stop judging them. I have to say, I’m still terrified and appalled by a potential Trump presidency, but I understand his appeal in very concrete ways.
Is there a particular playwriting school/style/genre that you particularly subscribe to? If you had to describe the style of this play in just a few words, what would you say?
I’ve experimented and rejected Aristotelian rising action, but I’ve come around to the value in telling a dramatic story through action based in conflict and having one action drive another. At least, it’s a very useful structure for writing a tragedy.
posted August 4, 2016