I love coaching creatives writing their first memoirs. The journey is full of amazing memories, perspective & the celebration of the life you’ve created.
My client, actor/writer, Susan Heyward (The Boys, Delilah, OITNB) and I have been working together for the last year & I’m super excited to share some of her brilliant work:
Part II: Permission to Be a Storyteller
“So other people got up & started ‘working the land’ with him.
I thought, ‘Cool,they saw the same thing I saw.’
And then another kid got up & pretended to crack a whip.
And started to bark orders.
And suddenly we weren't just in a field.
We were on a plantation.
As soon as the whole class agreed that we were on a plantation, a bunch of my classmates rushed up to join & added to the world being built.
One of us pretended to be on a tractor.
One of us pretended to be feeding dogs, one of us pretended to be turning cotton into thread. Spinning cotton into thread.
I was still on the side of the room, watching. I looked & I looked & I asked myself,
“Ok, how can I add to this world without repeating?”
I don't want to just do what everyone's doing.
Something inside me pushed me up.
Before I really knew what I was doing. I was walking gingerly up to one classmate, my hands heavy at my side, my back bent over & in a voice unlike my own, drawled,
“Want some watah?”
And the way they looked at me. We'd stopped
Pretending. We were just living.
My classmates. A bunch of city kids at summer camp, they looked different to me. They looked at me with gratitude & surprise.
I gave water.
More water. A moment between each laborer & I.
Together, we slipped into this world.
This improv lasted for 20 minutes..
And it was incredible, the imagination & freedom & sense of ensemble we built.
Whoever decided to cast themselves as the slave master went full in, grabbed one of the girls who was in the field & walked over to a corner with her. We heard the sounds of a master taking liberties, the kind that helped my great great aunts move west never to be seen by our black asses again.
( I should really track down that student & see how she's doing. How both of them are doing. I remember the teachers at the corners of the room coaching us, but I’m not 100%.
All I remember is I felt safe enough to play the scenario, but I can’t speak for everyone. This would probably never fly in a classroom today, but I’d be lying if I said it felt anything other than natural & free & creative.)
The whole thing took on a life of its own. A momentum.
We all pretended to pick her up afterwards and put her back together. And she said,
“I've had it, I'm leaving, we're not doing this no mo! I’m runnin’!”
And then we were cooking with gas!
One of the guys piped up that he was her husband. She couldn't leave without him & we approved “yes!” & went with it.
Okay, who else is leaving?
Oh snap! There's a whole group who decided to go.
“I'm not going.”
The words came out of my mouth smooth as a curtain rising at the top of a favorite burlesque act.
From a place inside me that felt like home, I knew we needed conflict. So, right then & there, I decided, the water girl had to stay.
I also decided (gasp!) master’s victim was my sister! So, I had to at least help her leave! Oh, & leave with her husband!
All these creative decisions, the freedom! Just firing off like firecrackers. Better than any drug. (At least I imagine. I’m from the D.A.R.E generation, drugs scared the shit out of me so bad that cussing & theater were my addictions. Still trying to shake ‘em both.)
My‘brother-in-NOT-law-cause-we-was-playing-slaves-and-marriage-wasn’t-legal-for-the-likes-of-us’ plotted the whole escape, with a bunch of us huddled around him. The person pretending to be the slave master; I think heard us but knew that it wouldn't help the story if he ‘found out.’ So, he improvised other things to do. Kept himself busy. Listened to the teachers coaching from the sidelines.
Then came the moment of parting, the moment, when we as an ensemble acted out the group escape. I felt such an upswell of emotion; sadness & grief & hope & joy. Literally, these people were going five or six feet across the room & pretending to go towards freedom, but we all believed it & our bodies acted as if it was the real thing.
And as they tip-toed away, we wept, whispering our goodbyes.
“You betta take care of my sister.”
Yeah, that was me. The drama! I gave you drama, honey!
Those of us who decided not to escape settled back into plantation life.
This thing had happened.
& we all knew it was special."
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