During Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette's Staged Reading Series, at least one play written by a local playwright will make its world premiere. This year's play is To Tread Among Serpents by Kelly McBurnette-Andronicos.
Question: Why did you write To Tread Among Serpents?
Kelly McBurnette-Andronicos: When I was six years old, our neighbor leaned into my mother's rolled-down car window and asked, "Ja hear? Viola Hiatt's outta jail." That's when I learned about the gruesome double murder that happened years earlier in my sleepy, rural community. An arm was found near my house, and down the road I used to hunt for fossils in Arm and Leg Creek. The story of Violet Haight, a.k.a. Viola Hiatt, has always been the Southern Gothic backdrop that frames my writing.
Q: What is the story of To Tread Among Serpents?
K. McB-A.: On the surface, it's a fictionalized account of the 1959 Torso Slayer Murders, a crime so spectacularly brutal, people still talk about it fifty years later. On a deeper level, it's a commentary on the ways in which the media exploits crime, criminals and victims through the marketing of sex and violence. It's also an exploration into the entertainment industry's perverted influence over the American justice system.
Q: What was your writing process? How long have you lived with the story?
K. McB-A.: I read everything about the case I could find, which consisted entirely of newspaper accounts, an article in a crime magazine and a couple of web articles. I contacted the county clerk for the court records and tracked down the original coroner in the case and interviewed him. He's well into his 90's but remembered the crime scene and investigation in great detail. The research took weeks; the writing took about nine months. I've lived with the story my whole life, and the play itself for about a year.
Q: How will the staged reading benefit you and the script?
K. McB-A.: Actors are very good at sniffing out inconsistencies, as they necessarily see the play from their own character's narrow point of view. Working with a director is helpful because he/she can show the many ways in which the script can be interpreted. A director and actors working together can surface all manner of connections and meanings in the script the writer never knew existed.
Q: When and how did you become interested in writing plays?
K. McB-A.: I've been an actor since I was two years old. A few years ago, when I lived in Ithaca, New York, I read the lead role in playwright Judith Pratt's staged reading of Maize about Nobel Prize winner Barbara McClintock. Soon after, I saw Ross Haarstad's production of Kit Wainer's wacky queermonsterfreaks. Two very different plays by two women I know and admire. I wanted to write something and writing a 70-page play seemed easier than writing a novel.
Q: How many plays have you written? What do they share in common?
K. McB-A.: In addition to To Tread Among Serpents, I've written the full-length The Resurrection of the Publick Universal Friend, about a cross-dressing Quaker heretic who claimed to be raised from the dead, and the 10-minute El Loro, El Gato y El Espíritu Santo, about three sisters who cover up a murder that never happened. I'm currently working on the Spanish Gothic play The Hall of Final Ruin about the notorious Gerturdis "La Tules" Barcelo whose last conquest is to die well. Religion, moral ambiguity, Gothicism, magical realism and gender/race/class are all central themes I use in an historical context, and all are commentaries on some element of contemporary society.
Q: What do you think about Civic Theatre's staged reading series?
K. McB-A.: It's virtually impossible for a new play to get a staged reading at an established theatre. The chances of it being produced are even smaller. Civic is playing a critical role in discovering and developing new plays by local writers for the American stage. I would argue it's exactly the kind of enterprise an established community theatre like Civic should engage in, and they've been particularly successful in promoting women playwrights like Laurie Russell, Deborah Gray and Diane Littleton Bahler. Women's representation in professional theatre nationwide remains disappointingly low, about 17%, so it's great that our local theatre is taking a leadership position on this equity issue.
The staged reading of To Tread Among Serpents will be Tuesday, March 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the historic Monon Depot Theatre, 320 N. 5th Street – the corner of 5th Street and North Street in downtown Lafayette. It is a Pay What You Can event.
There will be a question-and-answer session immediately following between the audience, the cast, the director and the playwright.
The mission of Civic Theatre of Greater Lafayette is to enhance the artistic and cultural environment of Greater Lafayette through theatrical productions and educational opportunities.